Fast food is rarely a healthy choice. But that doesn’t stop Americans from eating billions of dollars worth of it every year, despite the known risks such as obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. But perhaps new research out George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health will change the public perception of fast food.
According to the new research, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, higher levels of phthalates, harmful chemicals that can alter endocrine function in the body, were found in people who frequently consumed fast food.
“People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher,” lead author Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH, said in a statement. “Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults.” Phthalates are commonly used in food packing materials and production tools and can leach into food.
For this study, the researchers looked at data collected on nearly 9,000 individuals about their diet in the previous 24-hour period. They took urine samples a well, testing for two specific phthalates—DEHP and DiNP.
Both grain- and meat-based fast foods contributed to the higher levels of phthalates in the test subjects.
The research comes as several major food companies have committed to reduce or remove chemicals such as BPA from food packaging, and become more transparent about ingredients, including labeling the use of genetically modified organisms.
“People concerned about this issue can’t go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables and less fast food,” Zota says. “A diet filled with whole foods offers a variety of health benefits that go far beyond the question of phthalates.”