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The New "Obesogens"
Environmental Health Policy Institute, Volume III, number 1
It is widely known that the world is undergoing an obesity epidemic. In 2010, more than one-third of U.S. adults (36%) were obese; so were 17% of our children and young people. That’s over 90 million obese Americans. Worldwide, obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. The World Health Organization notes that overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight. According to a report published in December 2012 in the British medical journal The Lancet, not only is obesity a bigger health crisis globally than hunger; it is also the leading cause of disabilities around the world. Obesity increases the risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes and is linked to stroke and heart disease – some of the leading causes of preventable death.
What’s behind this global epidemic? One obvious factor is the change in lifestyle. The sedentary, machine-assisted life associated with the Western industrialized world has for hundreds of millions of people replaced humanity’s previous reliance on walking and performing manual labor. Since many of us have not made a corresponding decrease in our food intake, we eat more calories than we need and store the excess energy as fat. Other behavioral factors join with inherited tendencies to increase our gain in weight.
But what if it were more complex than that?
Recent research suggests that environmental chemicals also play a role. The articles in this Institute focus on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which are suspected of altering when, why and how much the body creates fat cells or stores fat in existing cells. Ominously, some of the chemicals under suspicion of spurring these changes are prevalent in the environment: bisphenol A (BPA), used in the production of many common plastics; some pesticides and fungicides; and industrial chemicals like PCB’s (banned from manufacture in the US but previously used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications), and dioxins, a class of highly toxic chemical formed during combustion processes such as waste incineration.
They have been dubbed “obesogens.” Five guest authors provide a window into what they are, how they operate, and what they mean for health—the health of those exposed, and perhaps transgenerationally.
The Obesogen Hypothesis and the Obesity Epidemic
Jerrold Heindel, PhD
Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes and Obesity: Unexplored Territory
Epigenetic Transgenerational Effects of Prental Obesogen Exposure
Amanda Janesick and Bruce Blumberg
The Rise of Obesogens: Chemical Exposures and the Obesity Epidemic
Emily Marquez, PhD
The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
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