Well-Being Longevity

Everyday plastic products could be contributing to weight gain

Story at a glance

  • New research has found a series of chemicals in everyday plastic products that are known to interfere with a person’s metabolism.
  • Researchers studied the chemicals and found they don’t stay within their intended material and spill out, allowing them to enter the human body.
  • About one-third of all products analyzed were found to contribute to fat cell development.

People typically associate junk food with weight gain and obesity, but new research suggests many of the plastic products used in everyday life, from shampoo bottles to dish sponges, may play a role in packing on the pounds. 

Researchers studied 34 different plastic products such as yogurt containers, drink bottles and kitchen sponges in a laboratory to see what types of chemicals they contained. They found more than 55,000 different chemical components and managed to identify 629 of them. 

Within that subset, they found 11 chemicals known to interfere with metabolism, called metabolism-disrupting chemicals. 

“Our experiments show that ordinary plastic products contain a mix of substances that can be a relevant and underestimated factor behind overweight and obesity,” said Martin Wagner, an associate professor at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in a statement. 


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Historically, scientists believed that most plastic chemicals stay within the material they’re used in, but Wagner’s team found that plastic products “leach” many chemicals under real-world conditions, which means they’re able to enter the human body. 

Wagner’s team also noted previous research has suggested that some plastics contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that could affect a person’s development and fertility, and Wagner’s new research is adding weight gain to that list. 

About one-third of the plastic products investigated by Wagner and his research team were found to contribute to fat cell development in laboratory experiments, and these substances can reprogram precursor cells to become fat cells that then proliferate and accumulate even more fat. 

However, while some plastic products did contain metabolism-disrupting substances, not all did. Some carried chemicals that could induce the development of fat cells, but they’re currently unidentified. At this point, scientists only know they carry the potential to interfere with how the human body stores fat. 

“It’s very likely that it is not the usual suspects, such as Bisphenol A, causing these metabolic disturbances. This means that other plastic chemicals than the ones we already know could be contributing to overweight and obesity,” said Johannes Völker, the first author of the study who is affiliated with Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services estimates that from 2017 to 2018, nearly 1 in 3 adults were overweight in the U.S. and more than 2 in 5 adults were considered obese. 

Wagner’s research team estimated that 2 billion people in the world are overweight, while 650 million fall under the obese category. 

That carries serious risk, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says obesity is associated with poorer mental health outcomes and a reduced quality of life. Obesity is also associated with the leading causes of death in the U.S. and worldwide, like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. 

Researchers’ solution to plastic chemicals contributing to weight gain is to scale back the use of plastics, writing, “a shift toward chemically less-complex plastics represents a way forward to a nontoxic environment.” 


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