A new study has discovered that eating out may increase exposure to harmful chemicals that are used to increase plastic’s flexibility and durability. Scientists believe that these chemical substances may cause hormonal imbalances.
Researchers have measured the blood levels of phthalates — binding agents frequently used in food packaging, adhesives, personal hygiene products, even flooring — and discovered that people who had eaten out in the previous day had 35% higher levels of phthalates than the participants who ate at home.
Recent studies associate phthalates with asthma, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and fertility issues. Fortunately, the US has banned some of these nasty substances from children’s products.
According to the study, foods like burgers and sandwiches were at the top of the list when it came to high phthalate levels, but only if bought at a fast-food outlet, restaurant or cafe.
The research team observed that teenagers were the most affected age-group: teens who frequently consumed fast-food while out with their friends had 55% higher levels of the chemicals than young people who ate home-made food.
“This study suggests food prepared at home is less likely to contain high levels of phthalates, chemicals linked to fertility problems, pregnancy complications and other health issues. Our findings suggest that dining out may be an important, and previously under-recognised, source of exposure to phthalates for the US population,” said Researcher Dr Ami Zota, from George Washington University in Washington DC.
Researchers analyzed data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). A number of 10,253 participants provided information regarding what they ate and where their food came from over the past 24 hours. Next, scientists measured the phthalate levels found in each participant’s urine.
Participants reported that 61% of them ate out the previous day. Researchers demonstrated a significant association between phthalate exposure and dining out for all age groups, but concluded that young people showed the strongest one.
“Pregnant women, children and teens are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals, so it’s important to find ways to limit their exposures,” said lead author Dr Julia Varshavsky, from the University of California at Berkeley. “Future studies should investigate the most effective interventions to remove phthalates from the food supply,” she concluded.
The paper was published in the journal Environment International.