Fast food may expose consumers to higher levels of harmful chemicals, study says

The next time you add fries to your burger order, you may also be adding extra chemicals. A new study found that people who ate more fast food had higher levels of phthalates than non-consumers, suggesting the quick eats may expose diners to the potentially harmful chemicals.

The study, published Wednesday in Environmental Health Perspectives, used data from the 8,877 participants of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The group, all age 6 or older, is a sample size large enough to reasonably reflect the U.S. population, researchers noted, and about one-third of the study group reported eating some fast food in the prior 24 hours. Fast food included processed or packaged food, carryout or delivery food, and food obtained from restaurants without waiter service.

Participants reported on their diet in the past 24 hours and provided urine samples, which were tested for breakdown products of two specific phthalates, DEHP and DiNP.

“We focused on diet in one day because the half-life of these chemicals, in the body, is very short,” lead author Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, told “The chemicals in urine basically reflect the prior 24 hours.”

People with the highest consumption of fast food had 23.8 percent higher levels of the breakdown product for DEHP and nearly 40 percent higher levels of DiNP metabolites, compared to those who didn’t eat fast food in the reported time period.

“Not only are our results highly statistically significant, you also want to look at whether the effects are meaningful,” Zota said. “In our case, we saw a 20 to 40 percent difference between those who didn’t eat fast food and the high consumers, which we also found was striking. This is after accounting for differences in age, sex, ethnicity, household income and BMI.”

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