We can debate a lot of things, but obesity rates aren't one of them. As a nation, we are heavily trending toward fatter and more so. In the opinion of most, it's what happens when you frequently choose unhealthy foods. But is it all about personal responsibility? Or is something out there packing on our pounds for us?
America is in the deep-fried grip of a serious obesity epidemic - almost 36 percent of U.S. adults are currently obese, and childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the last three decades.
Some of that is obviously related to too much on too many plates. But here's a weird, unsettling fact: Over the last 20 years, as Americans gained alarming amounts of tonnage so did the nation's marmosets. Also all our laboratory macaques. And our chimpanzees. As well as vervet monkeys, mice, dogs, cats, and wild and pet rats in both the city and the country. According to records, the average weight for these species has increased dramatically over time. That eye-opening truth raises a major question: Could something in the environment be making us fat?
We know that bodily levels of certain hormones have been linked to weight and that some toxins mimic hormones. And we know that many of these toxins are everywhere - in our products, our environment, and ourselves. While there's no definitive proof connecting all these dots, America's inexplicably fatter animals seem to be telling us it's out there. Let's consider:
Phthalates, a family of chemicals that easily escape from plastics, fragrances, and other consumer products, have been linked to obesity and diabetes in men, women, and children. And such evidence is just the tip of this iceberg.
The CDC says we're virtually awash in bisphenol-a (BPA), a chemical found in food cans, thermal receipt paper, polycarbonate plastic and other places. And science finds lots of evidence linking BPA to obesity in kids and adults.
Organophosphate pesticides like parathion, malathion, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and dichlorvos have been implicated as obesity culprits in at least one rodent study.
Ditto PCBs, which, although banned in 1979, are so long-lived that they're still circulating through the environment. One study in mice found PCBs may contribute to obesity and hardening of the arteries. Another found a relationship between PCBs and abdominal fat accumulation in the elderly.
Other research finds that exposure to perfluorinated chemicals like those used to stain-proof fabrics, grease-proof food packaging, and stick-proof cooking pans is an indicator for mid-life weight gain in mice.
That's hardly the end of it. The weight of damning evidence is also accumulating against many other harmful toxins, including dioxins, flame retardants, polyphenols, organochlorine pesticides, organotins, lead, and even drugs and diesel exhaust. Some of this science only involves animals. Some of it is too limited. Much of it indicates the need to learn more. None of it is conclusive.
Only two things are for sure: add it all up and in the view of many it becomes clear that something big happens at the waistline when pollution meets people, and that something is nothing good. That's all I need to know to steer clear of all these possible fat-makers until we all know what's really going on.
About the Inkslinger
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds.