A new study has found that people who ate more fast food were exposed to higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates than people who ate more home-cooked meals.
Lead author Julia Varshavsky, who did the research while she was a grad student at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and is now a post doc in reproductive health and the environment at UCSF, studied data from the 10,253 participants in a national survey. They were asked to recall what they ate and where their food came from in the previous 24 hours. The researchers analyzed the links between what people ate and the levels of phthalate breakdown products found in their urine.
“People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher,” said senior author Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. “Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults.”
People who ate in restaurants and cafeterias also had higher levels of phthalates than people who ate home cooked meals. The study is the first to compare phthalate exposures in people who reported dining out to those more likely to enjoy home-cooked meals (See a graphic that describes the findings here).
Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used to make plastics used for food packaging, tubing for dairy products and other items used in the processing of food. Other research suggests these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate highly processed food.
They alter how the body’s hormones function and have been linked to health problems such as birth defects, reproductive disorders, impaired brain development and cancer.