Washington — The latest culprit in phthalate exposure could be an unexpected one: fast food.
People who reported consuming more fast food in a national survey were exposed to higher levels phthalates, according to a study by researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.
Lead author Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the Milken Institute, and her colleagues examined data from 8,877 participants in federal nutrition surveys between 2003 and 2010. Participants answered detailed questions about what they had eaten in the last 24 hours and gave urine samples that were analyzed for byproducts that indicated the presence of three plastics-related chemicals.
Researchers say people who ate more fast food had significantly more evidence of two of the three chemicals examined — phthalates DEHP and DiNP — in their urine.
“In this cross-sectional study of the U.S. population, we find a consistent, positive association between recent fast food consumption and phthalates exposure,” according to the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health.
“Participants with high fast food intake had 20 to 40 percent higher urinary concentrations of phthalate metabolites than non-consumers. To our knowledge, this is the largest study to date on fast food consumption and biomarkers of environmental chemical exposure and the first to use a population-based sample.”
Researchers also noted grain and meat items were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure.
Phthalates are likely to be found in the plastics used for food packaging materials, tubing for dairy processing and other items used in the packaging or preparation of processed foods.
Though the study also measured how much bisphenol-A was found in participants' urine, BPA was not found to be significantly correlated with eating processed or fast foods.
The new study falls into the broader category of ongoing research showing that phthalates are found in a wide variety of products, including toys, perfume and food.