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Opinion
Mark Buchanan

Plastic Might Be Making You Obese

Scientists are exploring how chemicals found in packaging and other everyday products boost production of fatty tissues.

Chemicals aren’t getting enough attention as a potential cause of obesity.

Chemicals aren’t getting enough attention as a potential cause of obesity.

Photographers: Robyn Beck, Ronaldo Schemidt, Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

The global obesity epidemic is getting worse, especially among children, with rates of obesity rising over the past decade and shifting to earlier ages. In the US, roughly 40% of today’s high school students were overweight by the time they started high school. Globally, the incidence of obesity has tripled since the 1970s, with fully one billion people expected to be obese by 2030.

The consequences are grave, as obesity correlates closely with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other serious health problems. Despite the magnitude of the problem, there is still no consensus on the cause, although scientists do recognize many contributing factors, including genetics, stress, viruses and changes in sleeping habits. Of course, the popularity of heavily processed foods — high in sugar, salt and fat – has also played a role, especially in Western nations, where people on average consume more calories per day now than 50 years ago. Even so, recent reviews of the science conclude that much of the huge rise in obesity globally over the past four decades remains unexplained.