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Daily chemical exposure adds to obesity and diabetes risk

A scientific review of more than 240 papers published today by CHEM Trust provides new urgency for banning certain chemicals to protect health

20.03.2012 |WECF & HEAL




A scientific review of more than 240 papers published today by CHEM Trust provides new urgency for banning certain chemicals to protect health. Chemicals found in everyday items including mobile phone covers, toys, tin cans and shampoos could be fuelling the rise in obesity and diabetes, according to a new study.

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The Health and Environment Alliance, of which WECF is a member, issued a press release warning of a new urgency to ban certain chemicals, to protect health, following the study published by CHEM trust. The study was conducted by two leading epidemiology researchers, Spanish Professor Miquel Porta and Korean Professor Duk-Hee Lee, and found a link between exposure to common chemicals and the increase in obesity and diabetes.

The study shows that some of the chemicals identified are already subject to an EU ban, but others such as DDT and PCBs are still found in everyday goods. It is thought that the chemicals can interfere with, or mimic hormones, making it urgent that exposure by pregnant women is reduced. The endocrine chemical disruptor's (ECD'S), sometimes referred to as 'gender-bending' were previously linked to a rise in male infertility.

Scientific evidence on the role of chemicals in obesity and diabetes has grown rapidly over recent years, and has become particularly persuasive during the past six years. It challenges the view that rising rates of obesity and diabetes can be explained by bad diet and lack of exercise alone.

The review highlights studies showing that mice exposed to low doses of chemicals known as “endocrine (or hormone) disruptors” in their food produce offspring that are obese in adulthood, whereas non exposed mothers on the same diet do not produce such young. It also shows evidence linking people’s bodily levels of contaminants with their increased likelihood of developing diabetes.

Professor Porta says: “Our review provides the strongest possible incentive to minimise human exposure to all relevant hormone disruptors. This is especially important for women planning pregnancy as it appears to be the fetus developing in utero that is at greatest risk.”

The human population is exposed to these suspect chemicals on an everyday basis, mostly via food and consumer products. Some of the chemicals identified as suspects have already been banned, such as DDT and PCBs, but others are still on the market, such as Bisphenol A (which escape into food from plastic packaging) and brominated flame retardants (which are released from upholstered furniture and electronic equipment).

Genon Jensen, Executive Director of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) says that given rapidly rising rates of obesity and diabetes in Europe, the benefit of political action to reduce human exposure to chemicals is likely to be considerable.

“The number of people with diabetes in the EU is estimated to rise from approximately 33 million in 2010 to 37 million in 2025. We therefore need a much greater focus on prevention at every level. If chemical exposures play even a small part in diabetes, the benefits of better chemicals regulation will be significant, both in terms of better quality of life and cost savings for health services.”(3)
In Spain, for example, obesity and diabetes are both major public health concerns. “More than 6% of adults now have diabetes, and an estimated 6% of Spain’s total heath budget is spent on diabetes,” says (insert name and organisation in country here).(4)

MEP Danish Christel Schaldemose, who co-chairs the European Parliamentary working group on diabetes, would like to see all avenues in the prevention of diabetes pursued rapidly. “Recent estimates suggest that about 10% of EU health budgets are taken up by diabetes. This is simply not sustainable. If this new review shows there is enough evidence, action should be taken very swiftly to help bring down rising incidence of diabetes and obesity.”

A resolution in the European Parliament addressing the EU diabetes epidemic was adopted on 14 March. It recalls the importance of integrating prevention into “environmental, food and consumer policies”. Motions were received from MEPs Christel Schaldemose and Linda McAvan, on behalf of the S&D Group; Sarah Ludford, Antonyia Parvanova, Frédérique Ries and Giommaria Uggias, on behalf of the ALDE Group, Simon Busuttil and Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė, on behalf of the PPE Group, and Marisa Matias, Patrick Le Hyaric, Kartika Tamara Liotard, Nikolaos Chountis and Jiří Maštálka, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.

Lisette van Vliet, Toxics Policy Advisor at Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) says: “The EU is currently working to decide how to tell which chemicals are EDCs so that they can be controlled more carefully or removed entirely from the market.  But those definitions won’t be given until the end of 2013 and even then will not apply to all relevant EU laws. This is very slow. We'd like to see European governments taking swift regulatory action and companies making pro-active moves towards safer alternatives. For example, getting BPA out of all food packaging materials now.”

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), of which WECF is a member, is a leading European not-for-profit organization addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union. With the support of its over 70 member organizations, which represent health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, patients, citizens, women, youth, and environmental experts, HEAL brings independent expertise and evidence from the health community to different decision-making processes.


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