You probably know that eating right and exercising are necessary to lose weight or keep a healthy weight. But sometimes these may not be enough to help you shed pounds. There are hidden factors in the environment that can also affect your size and your health.
Every day, Americans are exposed to substances that can increase the risk of weight gain and other health problems. Chemicals called obesogens are specifically linked to obesity. They can make it hard for people to control their weight, even when they have good eating habits and are active.
Obesogens can prevent hormones from working like they should in your body. This can create health problems, including weight gain.
For instance, obesogens can affect hormones that tell your brain you are full when eating. This could lead you to overeat.
Obesogens can also make it hard for fat cells to release stored fat. That means the body can’t “burn” this stored fat for energy. And obesogens may increase the total number of fat cells in your body.
Here are 3 types of obesogens that researchers are concerned about:
- Bisphenols – found in the lining of aluminum cans, some paper receipts (those with plastic coating), and food and drink containers.
- Phthalates – found in cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, lotions, flooring, and food wrap
- Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – present in nonstick pots and pans, some carpet and upholstery, and microwave popcorn bags.
In a 2018 study in the journal PLOS Medicine, Harvard researchers took 621 people who were overweight or obese and put them on different heart-healthy diets. They also tested their blood for levels of PFAS.
During the first 6 months of the study, participants lost an average of 14 pounds. Then, over the following 1½ years, participants regained an average of 6 pounds.
The study showed that the people who gained back the most weight had the highest levels of PFAS in their blood. They regained about 3-5 lbs. more than those who had lower PFAS levels. Women were more affected than men.
What can you do to lower the risks of obesogens present in the environment? Start with these measures:
- Limit the amount of canned or processed foods you eat.
- Cut back on carryout and fast food. The wrappers and containers are often treated with PFAS.
- Use glass or aluminum containers to store food and drinks.
- Don’t microwave plastic containers or wash them in the dishwasher.
- Don’t reuse single-use plastic bottles.
- Use stainless steel or cast-iron cookware instead of nonstick pans.
- Avoid scented products like air fresheners, fabric softeners, and personal products. These contain phthalates.
- Use vinegar, plain soap, and baking soda to clean the house, instead of products loaded with Or look for “green” cleaning products.
- Check ingredient lists on personal care items and avoid those with “fluoro” on the label.
- Avoid stain- or water-resistant clothing, furniture coatings, and other products that contain PFAS.
- Remove shoes when entering your home to avoid bringing in contaminants on the bottom of shoes.
- Recirculate indoor air with outdoor air for a few minutes every day.
- Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter when you vacuum and dust often using a damp cloth.
With a little extra care, you can reduce the effect of obesogens on your body. This can help you achieve a healthy weight and other positive changes. Even a small reduction in these chemicals can make a big difference to your health.