A study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives last week suggests fast food consumption could be a source of exposure to the phthalatesDEHP and DiNP. This is particularly true for individuals who get a higher percentage of their total energy intake (35% or more) from fast food.

Researchers collected data from 8,877 participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2003 and 2010. They looked at urinary levels of DEHP and DiNP and compared it with fast food consumption (and amount of energy derived from it) over the previous 24 hours. The results suggest fast food could be an important source of phthalate exposure.

What are phthalates?

Phthalates are chemicals that are frequently used in plastics to make them more flexible and strong. Because they are used in PVC, you can find them in plastic food containers, packaging (including cling film), inflatable toys and even children’s toys. They are also used in products such as soaps, shampoos, hairsprays and nail polishes, as well as in plastic coats like raincoats.

Why doesfast food contain more?

The levels of phthalates in food vary depending on the amount and type of packaging it's wrapped in,how long it’s been stored and the processing methods used. Fast food typically tends to be packaged in plastic wrapping and handled by people wearing gloves (PVC). The type of food may also play a role, for example, in the study, DEHP levels were associated with grain intake, whilst DiNP associated with both meat and grains.

Are Phthalates harmful?

There are calls for further research to look at the harmful effects of phthalates; however some studies suggest they are linked to fibroids and endometriosis in women, as well as diabetes in both women and adolescents.The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states finding detectable levels of phthalates in urine does not imply adverse health effects.

However, some scientists argue that safe levels of phthalates in food are an issue that should be looked at more closely.

The safe levels of DEHP and DiNP have not been revised since 1988.

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