Same as with people, toxic chemicals cause their weight gain
We’ve all heard about the obesity epidemic. People are getting fatter, and some heavy people are getting sick. But did you know animals are getting fat too? What do fat animals tell us about human weight issues?
In people, fat is always blamed on eating too much and not moving enough. Or maybe their genes have something to do with it. Anyway, it’s their fault. But would you say that to an overweight raccoon?
You’ve probably seen fat pets. Some owners over-feed their cats and dogs. Farm animals’ increased weights could also be due to increased feeding.
But how do you explain the rising weights of lab animals? They have been fed a standard diet and kept to a standard lifestyle for at least 50 years. According to this article in The Atlantic, captive chimpanzees “living in highly controlled environments with nearly constant living conditions and diets,” increased weight by over 30% between 1985 and 2005.
And what is making zoo animals and wild animals fatter? Nearly every species studied has grown heavier in the last 30 years. Something much bigger is going on, and our health depends on knowing what it is.
An article by science writer Robin Marantz Henig in Prevention magazine shows the chief cause is chemical pollution.
Henig reports that dozens of industrial chemicals are associated with weight gain in laboratory animals. Now, we know that association does not prove causation, but in many cases, probable pathways from these chemicals to weight gain have been shown.
According to Henig, these chemicals (called “obesogens”) work in at least three ways. They may increase the number of fat cells or increase their fat storage capacity. They might slow down our metabolism and promote fat storage. They may even act to make us hungrier more of the time.
It is also possible that bodies produce more fat as a place to store these chemicals out of circulation. So fat may be an animal or human’s way of protecting itself in a toxic environment.
Obesogens are everywhere
Henig writes, “If you’ve ever eaten seafood, plugged in an air freshener, handled a cash register receipt, eaten canned vegetables, sat on a couch treated with flame retardant, or cooked in a nonstick pan, you’ve already been exposed to obesogens.”
Many of these chemicals seem to increase fatness by increasing insulin resistance (IR). So they may well cause IR-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and bad cholesterol. And in fact, many farm animals and pets do get diabetes.
As I wrote in Diabetes Self-Management magazine in 2014, it is possible that the entire statistical link between fatness and diabetes is explained by toxic chemicals causing both of them.
What are some of these chemicals?
Dozens of chemicals can cause long-term weight gain. One is the fungicide tributyltin (TBT). Ships used to be coated with it. Now it’s in the water, in seafood, and in everyone’s body. When pregnant mice were fed a single dose of TBT, their offspring were 15% fatter than mice who hadn’t been exposed.
The pesticide DDT is another obesogen. The plastic bisphenol A (BPA) imitates hormones like estrogen and testosterone in ways that cause fatness. Many personal care and homecare products include phtalates, a class of chemicals which disrupt the endocrine system, especially the thyroid. Exposure to any of these Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) have been shown to cause obesity and metabolic disease.
Perfluorooctanoic acid, known as Teflon, is a potent obesogen. Many more are in Henig’s article. More are described in this article and this Wikipedia page. As science has filled the world with toxic chemicals, literally hundreds of obesogens are around us all the time.
One important category of obesogens is antibiotics. They can kill off healthy gut bacteria and promote bacteria that cause weight gain. Another potential obesogen to watch out for is brominated vegetable oil or BVO. It was banned in Europe for health reasons, but is still added to soft drinks here.
Why I’m Angry about This
So, corporations are dumping thousands of chemicals into the environment, and many of these affect our body functions. A lot of them make people fat; some promote diabetes and other diseases. That’s sad, but the people doing it didn’t know about these effects. Now that they know, maybe they’ll change, right?
No, they won’t. This research is not new. Studies on animals’ getting fatter have been around since the 1990s. Some were collected in an overview published in 2002 called “Chemical toxins: a hypothesis to explain the global obesity epidemic.”
People who make and use these toxic chemicals KNOW they’re making people fat and sick. They’ve known for decades. And yet, I hadn’t heard about it until ten years ago, despite writing every week for years about health, diabetes, and fat.
This information hasn’t just been ignored. It’s been suppressed, as information on cigarettes’ causing cancer was suppressed for decades by the tobacco companies.
Just as information about fossil fuels causing global warming is suppressed by the oil companies. That is how these corporations roll, and their dishonesty is killing us.
Meanwhile, fat people are relentlessly blamed and shamed for their weight. They’re called lazy. They eat too much, say the experts. ‘They don’t care about themselves’; they’re a ‘burden on society,’ say pundits. And the chemical companies that are doing this to us and to every person and animal on Earth aren’t blamed. They’re making billions. It’s a perfect example of what corporations are doing to our planet.
What you can do
This doesn’t mean diet and exercise don’t matter. They do. But chemicals do too. We can limit our exposure, writes Mother Earth News, but it takes work and costs money.
● Eat organic food.
● Avoid furniture treated with flame retardants.
● Don’t store food in plastic containers.
● Read labels on any household product that comes in a container.
● Avoid phthalates and chemicals you haven’t heard of.
But, like voluntary efforts to “reduce our carbon footprint,” these smart shopping approaches will only take us so far. We need a movement to shut down these companies and stop using these chemicals.
We also need to stop blaming and shaming people for their weight. The stigma and discrimination heavy people suffer may be worse than any metabolic effects and may cause physical harm.
And it’s all so unjust; it’s all wrong. It’s all based on lies like the “calories in / calories out” theory of weight that ignores the effects of chemicals, bacteria, and genes.
We have to stop blaming victims. We have to stop destroying our environment. I guess for me, the place to start is by telling the truth. Governments and corporations won’t do it. So we have to.
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An earlier version of this piece appeared in Diabetes Self-Management.