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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

GW Study Finds Fast Food May Expose Consumers to Harmful Chemicals Called Phthalates

People who reported consuming more fast food in a national survey were exposed to higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates, according to a study published April 13 by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University (GW). The study, one of the first to look at fast-food consumption and exposure to these chemicals, appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

[Photo Credit: Mr. Matthew Golden, Milken Institute School of Public Health]

Dr. Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH, and her colleagues looked at data on 8,877 participants who had answered detailed questions about their diet in the past 24 hours, including consumption of fast food. These participants also had provided researchers with a urinary sample that could be tested for the breakdown products of two specific phthalates — DEHP and DiNP.

Dr. Zota and her colleagues found that the more fast food participants in the study ate, the higher the exposure to phthalates. People in the study with the highest consumption of fast food had 23.8 percent higher levels of the breakdown product for DEHP in their urine sample. And those same fast food lovers had nearly 40 percent higher levels of DiNP metabolites in their urine compared to people who reported no fast food in the 24 hours prior to the testing.

Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used to make food packaging materials, tubing for dairy products, and other items used in the production of fast food. Other research suggests these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate highly processed food. Studies suggest phthalate exposure can lead to a number of serious health problems in children and adults.

Read more about findings from the study, “Recent Fast Food Consumption and Bisphenol A and Phthalates Exposure Among the US Population in NHANES, 2003-2010,” which was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.