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The air we breathe

(article, Caroline Cummins)

The developed world is fat, and getting fatter all the time. Usually our ballooning waistlines are blamed on not just a lack of exercise but the prevalence of cheap, tasty industrial food in our diets: fast food, packaged food, high-fructose corn syrup, and the like.

But what if exercise and diet aren't the whole story? What if the developed world itself is partly to blame?

Bruce Blumberg, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, thinks that industrial pollution may be contributing to obesity. As the Portland Tribune reported recently:

bq. Blumberg believes the obesity epidemic actually is due, in part, to industrial pollution — specifically to low levels of toxic compounds he calls “obesogens.” Just as exposure to carcinogens can trigger cancer, Blumberg and other researchers say exposure to obesogens can trigger a dramatic increase in the amount of fat produced in a person’s body, leading to excess weight and obesity.

More specifically, "obesogens" are endocrine disruptors, compounds that interfere with the human body's hormones. Blumberg noticed that a pesticide known for causing sexual mutations in marine life was also causing frogs to get fat. What's the connection? Well, hormones are heavily involved in both sexual development and fat production. So it makes sense that disrupted hormones might make you fat.

Blumberg fingered a class of compounds called "organotins," which became widespread in the 1960s in the shipbuilding industry. Now they're pretty much everywhere:

bq. \[Organotins\] also have been used as soil fungicides for crops such as nuts, potatoes, rice, and celery; as “slimicide” to clean up the goop that accumulates in underground water wells; and in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a hard plastic found in drainpipes, vinyl flooring, window frames, and hundreds of other places. These widespread uses suggest several possible routes of human exposure, Blumberg says. Organotins may contaminate crops, seep into wells, or leach into drinking water from PVC pipes.