While pregnant with each of my three children, I tried to eat well, exercise, and rest. I took my health even more seriously because I knew my choices affected not just me but also my developing baby. However, I had no idea that toxic exposures from consumer products could also influence health.
Since World War II, more than 84,000 chemicals have been introduced into American commerce, most of which have not been adequately studied for safety. That’s a huge problem because in recent decades, scientific studies have found that chronic exposures to low doses of chemicals found in everyday products can have adverse health effects. The list of potential health effects is long and varied and includes everything from cancer and reproductive issues to neurotoxicity and obesity.
Vulnerability to these chemicals varies not just among adults and children but also among individuals. Timing of exposure is also important: If exposed during certain stages of development — such as the prenatal and postnatal periods, puberty, and menopause — the health effects are potentially more serious.
Specifically, scientists are learning that exposure to a class of chemicals known as obesogens during the prenatal period can disrupt the endocrine system and contribute to obesity, which is associated with many chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Minimizing unnecessary exposure to these chemicals, which are found in many everyday products, is important for everyone, but it is especially key for pregnant women.
Below are tips to reduce your exposure to obesogens. If you are pregnant, incorporating these four tips will be an invaluable investment in your child’s lifelong health.
1. Avoid Plastic Food and Beverage Containers
Plastics are made with a number of chemical ingredients, including BPA and phthalates, that threaten our health and development and have been linked to obesity. In 2016, a study found that prenatal exposure to BPA was positively correlated with higher body mass indexes in children. BPS, a typical replacement chemical in “BPA-free” products, has also been linked to obesity. Also, a recent study of phthalates found positive associations between maternal exposure and childhood obesity.
For most people, it is challenging to avoid all plastics. But, we can cut down on our exposure by nixing plastic food and beverages containers. Chemicals are more likely to leach from plastics when exposed to extreme heat or cold, or if the plastics are scuffed and damaged. Safer food storage materials include glass and stainless steel containers.
2. Try to Pick Organic Veggies and Fruits
Linked to cancer and other adverse health effects, pesticides may also contribute to childhood obesity. Prenatal exposures to certain pesticides, such as hexachlorobenzene (HCB), triflumizole (TFZ), and tributyltin (TBT), have been linked to obesity in children. Some studies have shown that the effects could be transgenerational too. In other words, when a pregnant mother is exposed, then both her child and grandchildren could be affected.
To reduce unnecessary pesticide exposures, focus on eating organic fruits and vegetables. If you cannot eat 100% organic, then turn to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. They are updated yearly, and rank which produce tend to have higher levels of detected pesticides (and should therefore be purchased organic), and which produces are “cleaner” in their conventional forms.
3. Reduce Your Intake of Prepackaged Foods
Reducing your consumption of prepackaged food items will also reduce your exposure to obesogens. The aforementioned BPA, for example, is also found in the lining of cans. Phthalates, another obesogen mentioned earlier, are typically found in food packaging materials too. As a rule of thumb, prepackaged foods tend to have higher levels of BPA, phthalates, PFOA (see below), and other obesogens than thoughtfully prepared home-cooked meals.
Cooking at home as much as possible is the ideal, but when you do buy prepackaged foods, remove the food from the containers as soon as you can and store it in glass or stainless steel.
4. Avoid Nonstick Materials
Nonstick coatings of pots, pans, and even food packaging/wrapping materials can contain a chemical known as PFOA. In addition to a slew of adverse health effects, it is also thought to be an obesogen. In 2015, a study from Brown University found that the children of mothers who had higher levels of exposure to PFOA while pregnant had higher body fat and experienced faster weight gain through age 8.
Ditch the nonstick cookware and use pots and pans made of stainless steel and cast iron. If you can’t afford to replace all of your nonstick cookware, consider replacing the ones that are scuffed and heavily worn. Other common sources of PFOA include any water- or stain-resistant coatings that are commonly applied to upholstered furniture, carpets, and some clothing.
For more tips on how you can improve both human and environmental health, check out A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures by Sophia Ruan Gushée. Follow her practical approach on NontoxicLiving.tips, and register for her free newsletter, The ABCs of D-Toxing, to stay updated on her upcoming programs.