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Obesogens: The Hidden Culprit of Weight Gain

Exposure to a group of chemicals known as obesogens has been linked to weight gain and researchers continue to uncover more information about these chemicals.

| January/February 2014

  • Studies have found that consuming obesogens such as the chemical tributyltin increases risk of obesity in those exposed, as well as in their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
    Photo By Olix Wirtinger/Corbis/Veer
  • Look out for the health of your family, including your grandchildren, by learning about obesogens and how to avoid them.
    Photo By OJO Images Photography/Veer
  • Learn how a group of chemicals known as obesogens might make you, your kids—and even your grandkids—more prone to obesity.
    Photo By cultura Photography/Veer

Until recently, if you were trying to keep off excess pounds the conventional wisdom was relatively simple. Sure, you could name a number of diet and exercise philosophies, but the basic advice was the same: Eat less, exercise more! However, in the last few years, new research has shown that the issues involved in weight gain and loss are more complex than we once believed. While diet and exercise are essential to maintaining a healthy weight, other factors also seem to influence how likely our bodies are to put on and store excess pounds—one of which is exposure to a group of chemicals known as obesogens.

For tips on lessening your exposure to obesogens see 14 Ways to Reduce Your Obesogen Intake.

The term “obesogen” was coined in 2006 by Bruce Blumberg, professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California, Irvine. It’s now being used everywhere from The Dr. Oz Show to the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report, which recently recommended prioritizing new research on these chemicals.

While we still have a lot to learn, research is uncovering many interesting things about obesogens. About 20 chemicals are currently believed to be obesogens, and many of them are substances to which we’re all widely exposed, including several common pesticides and bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in some plastics. 

Blumberg has been active in communicating with the general public about this research and its implications for our health. I spoke with him to learn more about this class of chemicals, particularly his research on mice and a chemical called tributyltin.

Obesogens and Weight Gain

The definition of an obesogen is simple: “An obesogen is a chemical that makes an animal or a human fat,” Blumberg says. As he points out, that’s a functional definition—it’s not limited to any one class of chemicals—and any substance that causes weight gain could be considered an obesogen. (You could make a case for donuts, he jokes. They certainly can cause weight gain.)

2/14/2014 11:06:38 PM

Hi Megan, Very insightful article. I've heard the same story my whole life, if you want to lose weight you have to eat less and exercise more. This sounds to simple and doesn't always work. I'm glad research is showing it's not quite as simple as many believe it is, although proper diet and exercise are a vital part of our

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