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Eating Fast Food Will Fill You Up...With Harmful Chemicals

Eating Fast Food Will Fill You Up...With Harmful Chemicals
"Traditional fast food was never meant to be daily fare, and it shouldn’t be.  It’s too high in calories and salt and, as we now know, the chemicals that get into our food supply through industrial food production." ~Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition and food Studies at New York University


A quick meal can be healthy, especially if that meal is IQed, but if you are eating fast food, the type you typically buy through a window, there is a good chance you are also consuming potentially harmful chemicals according to researchers at George Washington University,  a connection they argue could have "great public health significance."  There is growing concern that the chemicals could pose a variety of risks, particularly when observed in the sort of levels seen in the study which was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The team found people who eat fast food tend to have significantly higher levels of certain phthalates, which are commonly used in consumer products such as soap and makeup to make them less brittle but have been linked to a number of adverse health outcomes.  A 2013 study found that exposure to the industrial chemical can increase the risk of various allergic diseases in children. A 2015 study found that exposure to the phthalate was associated with higher blood pressure, and a 2016 study concluded that it can also negatively affect child behavior.  There are numerous other health issues that the population exposed could be at an increased risk of including infertility, birth defects, cancers diabetes, and other negative health effects that are not yet fully known.  

The danger, the researchers believe, isn't necessarily a result of the food itself, but rather the process by which the food is prepared.

Fast Food Nation

In order to gauge how fast food affects the presence of certain non-natural chemicals, the team analyzed data for nearly 9,000 people. The data was collected as part of federal nutrition surveys conducted between 2003 and 2010. The surveys included detailed information about the participants' diets, including what each had eaten in the last 24 hours. They also contained the results of urine samples taken at the same time, which allowed the researchers to measure the levels of three separate chemicals.

For the purpose of the study, any food eaten at or from restaurants without waiters or waitresses was considered fast food. Everything else — food eaten at sit-down restaurants and bars or purchased from supermarkets and vending machines — was not.

The first thing the researchers found was that roughly one-third of the participants said they had eaten some form of fast food over the course of the day leading up to the urine sample collection. That proportion, high as it might seem, is actually in line with government estimates. In fact, more than a third of all children and adolescents living in the country still eat some form of fast food on any given day, a number that hasn't budged in decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The second thing the researchers found is that those participants who said they had eaten fast food in the last 24 hours tended to have much higher levels of two separate phthalates — DEHP and DiNP. People who reported eating only a little fast food had DEHP levels that were 15.5 percent higher and DiNP levels that were 25 percent higher than those who said they had eaten none. For people who reported eating a sizable amount, the increase was 24 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

And the connection held true even after the researchers adjusted for various factors about the participants' habits and backgrounds that might have contributed to the association between fast-food consumption and phthalate levels.

Industrialized Fast Food

The reason people who eat fast food seem to have much higher levels of potentially harmful industrial chemicals is unclear. But it's easy enough to guess: the sheer amount of processing that goes into food served at quick-service restaurants.

The more machinery, plastic, conveyor belts, and various forms of processing equipment that food touches, the more likely the food is to contain higher levels of phthalates. And fast food tends to touch a good deal more of these things than, say, the food one purchases at a local farmers market.



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