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It isn't just what you eat, it's how it's packaged, too

by: Blue Girl

Sat Apr 18, 2009 at 12:20:11 PM CDT


The Mount Sinai Center for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research, a multi-year study launched in 1998, released their findings for years 6-10 on Thursday, and they shine a harsh light on the use of phthalates, potent endocrine disruptors and a component of plastics used in food packaging.  Phthalates, long maligned for their carcinogenic properties, are used to make plastics pliable.  THey are fat-soluble and absorbed into the body, where they adversely affect hormone levels and metabolism, and the new data suggests that they are a major contributing factor in the skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity.  

 The researchers measured exposure to phthalates by looking at the children's urine. "The heaviest girls have the highest levels of phthalates metabolites in their urine," said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai, one of the lead researchers on the study. "It goes up as the children get heavier, but it's most evident in the heaviest kids."

This builds upon a larger Mount Sinai research effort called "Growing Up Healthy in East Harlem," which has looked at various health factors in East Harlem children over the last 10 years, including pesticides, diet and even proximity to bodegas.

About 40 percent of the children in East Harlem are considered either overweight or obese. "When we say children, I'm talking about kindergarten children, we are talking about little kids," Dr. Landrigan said. "This is a problem that begins early in life."

The study was conducted following 300 children in East Harlem and an additional 200 children from the surrounding community; and a separate group of approximately 400 girls in the same communities, in the 9-11 age range.  

The findings bring an additional causative factor in childhood obesity to the fore, introducing a new variable - environmental factors - into the equation.  Most people have assumed one of two positions in the debate over what has caused the increased incidence in childhood obesity.  Some claim the primary reason rates are climbing is that children are less active, spending more time in front of a flickering screen instead of outside playing, and they point to crime rates in poorer neighborhoods as one reason children stay inside - sometimes it simply isn't safe to go outside.  Others have focused almost exclusively on the quality of the nutrition available in poorer neighborhoods where fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats are largely unavailable and/or cost prohibitive, as well as the switch from sucrose to high-fructose corn syrup as the sweetener in most convenience products.   Those are indeed contributing factors, and these new findings do not obviate that component, but it must be viewed as of a piece, as an additional causative agent - that it isn't just the contents of the packaging, but the packaging itself that must be considered when we try to make sense of the spike in childhood obesity - and the new phenomenon of Type II diabetes (previously known as 'adult onset' diabetes) in kids.

I spent a significant portion of a 24-year career in endocrine research.  In the first fifteen years, I did not see a single case of Type II in a juvenile.  Toward the end, I routinely taught diabetic education counseling classes that were geared exclusively to groups of teenagers, who are not as amenable to lifestyle lectures. Each group contained between 15-30 kids. And I taught these classes in the inner city, in what was, at least at that time, the zip code with the highest per capita incidence of diabetes in the entire nation.  I saw a new sea of brown faces the same ninety minutes every week for six weeks, and a new group rotated in every two weeks.  That is a lot of diabetic kids.  And what I can tell you anecdotally is that every single one of the things that have gotten the blame for the epidemic I have observed to exist, so this is a 'big picture' problem if ever there was one.    

Diet and exercise can not be discounted, we have always had chubby kids who didn't eat a proper diet or get enough exercise, but very few were considered obese, and literally none of them were diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a disorder of the endocrine system. (The lines have so blurred over the last decade that we have renamed juvenile diabetes Type I and adult-onset Type II, because the previous labels no longer apply.)

But we can't overlook the revolution in food packaging over the last thirty years or so, either.  When I was a kid, in the 60s and 70s, soda pop (which wasn't made from corn syrup back then) came in aluminum cans or glass bottles, not in plastic; and meat came in butcher paper, not polystyrene trays and plastic wrap.  Nor were plastics so prevalent in our everyday life. The dairy products we buy in boxes, like yogurt, cottage cheese and sour cream, used to be packaged in waxed cardboard.  Now they come in plastic tubs - that get reused, either of economic necessity or out of a green sensibility - and they frequently get microwaved.  Reduce-Reuse-Recycle...isn't that the mantra?  And we all know that chemical reactions occur faster at higher temperatures.  (This is why you should never microwave in anything other than glass.)

The elephant in the room is a looming public health crisis that we can ill afford, and we have to tackle it now, before it is too late, if it isn't already.  To effectively craft solutions to this problem, we have to look at all the variables with an unblinking eye, and one of those factors is endocrine disruptors in the environment and specifically in the food supply, both in how it is produced and how it is packaged.  

Blue Girl :: It isn't just what you eat, it's how it's packaged, too
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This is the classic problem (0.00 / 0)
Is correlation the equivalent of causation?  

I'll easily argue that mother's milk leads to murders.  Some substantial number of murderers were raised on mother's milk.  

Correlation, absent substantial evidence, does not equal causation.

My training says that the prevailing theory is that Coxsackieviruses (part of the enterovirus family of viruses (which also includes polioviruses and hepatitis A virus)) that live in the human digestive system attack certain individuals' Ruby Goblet Cells creating the metabolic disease known as Diabetes.  Nothing put forth to date refutes this theory of the disease's pathology.

In sum, we still have no solid basis for the onset of Type I or Type II Diabetes Mellitus.  

I certainly support the research and would support anything that would relieve those afflicted.

Not to be an apologist - I want solid, double blind evidence,  I have family and close friends and clients suffering from this endocrine disorder and I'll be first on the boat when solid evidence supports any mediation of this horrible metabolic disease.

I don't see enough in this study to gain my support against plasticizers.   Not that I support the "new car smell" over the cure for Diabetes.....

"In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying."

- Bertrand Russell -


I believe... (0.00 / 0)
...that it is easily inferred from my post that I do not think that we should leave out any aspect.  The endocrine disruption mechanism is known and pretty well understood.  

The thing I am interested in is why the spike?  Is the virus that is probably going to be definitively determined to be the catalyst that much more prevalent now, or is there a correlation between multiple factors that is going to be the reason some people get it and some don't?  I think that the latter is the most likely.    

When you get raptured, can I have your car?


[ Parent ]
Is the spike (0.00 / 0)
the result of an increase in autoimmune disorders?  

This research is just one example of a better use of the money spent on Iraq....

We don't have the bulk of primary researchers left in the US.  I can't count the number of my friends with Ph.D.'s who have left the USA over the past 8 years.  Chugai Pharma USA, L.L.C. moved its primary research center from San Diego to Paris, France in 2004.  Hundreds of molecular biologists and patent lawyers were relocated at company expense.  That's just one company....

BushCo's anti stem cell policy drove the brain-drain and their cuts in research grants made the exodus mandatory for those on the cutting edge of research.

This isn't my nation, anymore.

"In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying."

- Bertrand Russell -


[ Parent ]
Diagnosis? (4.00 / 1)
This might be a diagnosis problem.  A generation ago Type 2 wasn't usually tested in children.  "Common knowledge" said that it just didn't appear in children.  There were rare cases where testing had been done and hyperglycemia etc. were called MODY - Mature Onset Diabetes of Youth.  Then somebody decides to test the obese children of adult Type 2's and finds that there can be an early onset of hyperglycemia with hyperinsulinemia and other symptoms of the Metabolic Syndrome.  Perhaps this is somewhat analogous to the change in diagnostic criteria leading to the increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorders.

As for the zip with the highest prevalence of diabetes, have you checked 85634 [Sells AZ, on the Tohono O'odham Reservation]?


Tohono O'odham (0.00 / 0)
It is unusual, I'll give you that.  One theory is that the prairie tribes had a survival trait that was hypersensitivity to carbohydrates.  Survival and reproduction were enhanced by sub-acute diabetes/ gluconeogenesis / glycogen pathologies.

"In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying."

- Bertrand Russell -


[ Parent ]
HF Corn Syrup (0.00 / 0)
Replaced sucrose in common food and drink by 1974.  My source is the excellent, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals authored by Michael Pollan in 2006.

"In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying."

- Bertrand Russell -


This is why you should never microwave in anything other than glass (0.00 / 0)
What do you have against ceramics and paper towels?  I microwave reheat coffee in ceramic mugs and cook corn-on-the-cob wrapped in wet paper towels frequently.

"In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying."

- Bertrand Russell -


What plastic containers contain phthalates? (0.00 / 0)
This isn't just theoretical to me.  My wife and I have just adopted a beautiful 20 month old boy from Russia, and since we'd rather be safe than sorry, I'd like to avoid unnecessary exposure to phthalates on his part.  But nuking only in glass containers is pretty unrealistic - we don't have enough glass in the house to manage that.  So do pretty much all plastic containers these days contain phthalates?  Or do some do, and some don't?  What's the story?

Corningware and Pyrex (0.00 / 0)
You can find it cheap at garage sales and Goodwill.  Check it carefully for chips - if intact, it'll last forever, stays intact through stove, oven, microwave and dishwasher, never releases pthalates or anything else.  

You just have to be careful with it around your little one because it breaks.


[ Parent ]
You can also still get paper-wrapped meat (0.00 / 0)
if you request specific cuts from the butcher in the grocery meat department.

To reduce pthalate release in the plastic dishes your child uses, hand-wash them.  Hot but not boiling water and soap get them plenty clean.


[ Parent ]
Forgot to explain that ALL plastic containers release pthalates (0.00 / 0)
The softer and more flexible the plastic (wrap), the more pthalates are released.

The more heat - both in temperature and frequency - to which the container is exposed, the more pthalates are released.

I had an entire pantry full of plastic containers I have collected and saved over years, if not decades.  I was so proud of it, and it KILLED me to pack it up, drive it to the recycling center and throw it in the plastics bin.

I saved a few containers to hold nails, screws, pens, paper clips, rubber bands and other tiny crap that accumulates around here, but none in the kitchen, ever again.


The last US official report - 2005 from Bush's CDC (0.00 / 0)
http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/thirdreport.pdf


"In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying."

- Bertrand Russell -


[ Parent ]
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