A Thought On New Year’s Resolutions: Maybe It’s Not Just the Food That Makes Us Fat

Mr. Creosote via Wikipedia

Mr. Creosote via Wikipedia

It’s no news that Americans are fat and getting fatter. The rest of the world is packing on the pounds too. Even the French, long admired for their ability to eat fois gras and still look chic, are having to let out their waistbands, especially young French people, the kind who favor Le Big Mac over cassoulet.

Nothing brings out low humor and a general air of superiority like tut-tutting at the obese. The snarky and judgmental among us have parlor games guessing the favorite foods of lumbering passersby. The plus-sized are routinely exhorted to put down the fork and push away from the table.  Bookshelves groan under diet books, late night TV is filled with ads for exercise and weight loss programs. Come January 1, lots of us will be resolving to take off the tonnage we’ve packed on. Just like we did last year, and the year before that. This year, for sure, the pounds are coming off.

But maybe it’s not really all the fault of gluttony and inertia.  Maybe all the self-flagellation and mockery are no more useful for getting us to lose weight than a rabbit’s foot or a four leaf clover. Maybe there’s something else out there quite aside from fatty calories and a lack of exercise that’s making us unrecognizable at our high school reunions. Lots of diets tell us to drink plenty of water. Runners and gym rats tote plastic water bottles with them as they try to work the weight off. Maybe we should be wondering if our plastic water bottle is making us look fat.

The plastic water bottle is a distinctively modern accessory. A decade or two ago, people drank out of water fountains at work. Boy Scouts lugged metal canteens. Now, water bottles are everywhere. One is on my desk right now. Chances are you drank out of one within the last day or so. If you did, you probably got a nice dose of phthalates along with your dihydrogen monoxide.

Phthalates are a chemical used to make plastics flexible, and they’re everywhere. Aside from water bottles, they are found in garden hoses, baby bottles, toys, food storage containers, and flame retardant clothing and furniture. They also find their way into cosmetics, shampoo, and nail polish. They are even added to citrusy fruit drinks in the form of brominated vegetable oil. It’s been known for years that phthalates are hormone disrupters. Children are particularly susceptible to hormonal interference by phthalates, and the chemicals are implicated in causing low birth weight. Ironically, they may also be making us fat. It’s not just the sugar in your pop that makes you plump, it’s the bottle the pop comes in.

And it’s not just humans being affected by all those hormone disrupters in the environment. Animals, too, are bulking up in otherwise inexplicable ways. ProPublica has a nice rundown on how phthalates are ballooning our physiques and those or our animal compatriots as well. Apparently it’s not just that last chocolate mint that is the problem.

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