Are Toxins Making Us Fat?

Are industrial chemicals and environmental pollutants to blame for the obesity epidemic or are we just eating too much?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #181

A small but growing number of researchers believe that environmental pollutants and industrial chemicals are to blame for the obesity epidemic. This, of course, bucks the conventional wisdom that our increasing girth is simply the result of eating too much and exercising too little. For those who have struggled unsuccessfully to lose weight according to the standard prescription (“eat less, move more”), this latest theory offers a sort of vindication—if not a ready solution.   But what’s the evidence to support the idea that chemicals are the true cause of our ever-expanding waistlines?

It’s not enough to say that the rise in obesity correlates to the increasing use of industrial chemicals. Although this may be true, the rise in obesity correlates to a lot of things. It also correlates to a dramatic increase in the sale of organic produce and other products. But there is more evidence..

Pesticides Make Rats Fat

Bruce Blumberg, a researcher at University of California, Irvine, researches the effects of chemicals that are widely used in plastics and pesticides. He’s found that rats exposed to these chemicals have more and bigger fat cells than rats that are not—even though both rats eat the same diet. Blumberg believes that the presence of these chemicals (he calls them “obesogens”) in our environment could explain why we’ve gotten so much fatter.

Read more about Blumberg’s research in the Atlantic: What’s Really Making Us Fat

This is a very interesting finding—but it doesn’t quite close the case. First of all, things don’t always work in humans the way they do in lab rats. Secondly, these rats are being exposed to levels much higher than anything we encounter in our environment. While I think we should do whatever we can to reduce our exposure to industrial pollutants, it remains to be seen whether the amount of chemicals that the average citizen is exposed to is enough to affect our metabolism or fat cells—and if so, how big that effect might be.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.