What Are We Putting in Our Food That Is Making Us Fat? Food Additives, Contaminants, and Other Putative Contributors to Obesity


The “chemical obesogen” hypothesis conjectures that synthetic, environmental contaminants are contributing to the global epidemic of obesity. In fact, intentional food additives (e.g., artificial sweeteners and colors, emulsifiers) and unintentional compounds (e.g., bisphenol A, pesticides) are largely unstudied in regard to their effects on overall metabolic homeostasis. With that said, many of these contaminants have been found to dysregulate endocrine function, insulin signaling, and/or adipocyte function. Although momentum for the chemical obesogen hypothesis is growing, supportive, evidence-based research is lacking. In order to identify noxious synthetic compounds in the environment out of the thousands of chemicals that are currently in use, tools and models from toxicology should be adopted (e.g., functional high throughput screening methods, zebrafish-based assays). Finally, mechanistic insight into obesogen-induced effects will be helpful in elucidating their role in the obesity epidemic as well as preventing and reversing their effects.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. 1.

    Food and Drug Administration. Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS). [cited 2013 Dec 8]. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fcn/fcnNavigation.cfm?rpt=eafusListing.

  2. 2.

    Apovian CM. The causes, prevalence, and treatment of obesity revisited in 2009: what have we learned so far? Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91:277–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    The International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association. U.S. Health club membership exceeds 50 million, up 10.8%; Industry revenue up 4% as new members fuel growth. 2011.

  4. 4.••

    Casals-Casas C, Desvergne B. Endocrine disruptors: from endocrine to metabolic disruption. Annu Rev Physiol. 2011;73:135–62. This is a great review on the mechanisms of endocrine disruptors.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.•

    Lubrano C, Genovesi G, Specchia P, Costantini D, Mariani S, Petrangeli E, et al. Obesity and metabolic comorbidities: environmental diseases? Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2013. This review uses incidents of high level dioxin contamination to assess effects of environmental contaminants on health. They also outline the initiatives underway in Europe to study endocrine disruptors and prevent contamination in our food supply.

  6. 6.

    Baillie-Hamilton PF. Chemical toxins: a hypothesis to explain the global obesity epidemic. J Altern Complement Med. 2002;8:185–92.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Grün F, Blumberg B. Environmental obesogens: organotins and endocrine disruption via nuclear receptor signaling. Endocrinology. 2006;147:S50–5.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.••

    Thayer KA, Heindel JJ, Bucher JR, Gallo MA. Role of environmental chemicals in diabetes and obesity: A National Toxicology Program workshop review. Environ Health Perspect. 2012;120:779–89. The National Toxicology Program organized a workshop in 2012 where experts reviewed published data relating environmental chemicals and diabetes and obesity. Their findings are presented here.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Gidley MJ. Hydrocolloids in the digestive tract and related health implications. Curr Opin Colloid Interface Sci. 2013;18:371–8.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    He J, Giusti M. Anthocyanins: natural colorants with health-promoting properties. Annu Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010;1:163–87.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Bhattacharyya S, O-Sullivan I, Katyal S, Unterman T, Tobacman JK. Exposure to the common food additive carrageenan leads to glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and inhibition of insulin signalling in HepG2 cells and C57BL/6J mice. Diabetologia. 2012;55:194–203.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Micha R, Mozaffarian D. Saturated fat and cardiometabolic risk factors, coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a fresh look at the evidence. Lipids. 2010;45:893–905.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Hu FB. Are refined carbohydrates worse than saturated fat? Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91:1541–2.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Van Dam RM, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Dietary fat and meat intake in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes in men. Diabetes Care. 2002;25:417–24.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Popkin BM. The nutrition transition and obesity in the developing world. J Nutr. 2001;131:871S–3S.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Ludwig DS, Majzoub JA, Al-Zahrani A, Dallal GE, Blanco I, Roberts SB. High glycemic index foods, overeating, and obesity. Pediatrics. 1999;103:E26.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, et al. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81:341–54.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2006;354:1601–13.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Kavanagh K, Jones KL, Sawyer J, Kelley K, Carr JJ, Wagner JD, et al. Trans fat diet induces abdominal obesity and changes in insulin sensitivity in monkeys. Obesity. 2007;15:1675–84.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Hu FB, van Dam RM, Liu S. Diet and risk of Type II diabetes: the role of types of fat and carbohydrate. Diabetologia. 2001;44:805–17.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Yu Z, Lowndes J, Rippe J. High-fructose corn syrup and sucrose have equivalent effects on energy-regulating hormones at normal human consumption levels. Nutr Res. 2013;33:1043–52.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Grimes CA, Riddell LJ, Campbell KJ, Nowson CA. Dietary salt intake, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, and obesity risk. Pediatrics. 2013;131:14–21.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Cederroth CR, Nef S. Soy, phytoestrogens and metabolism: a review. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2009;304:30–42.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Cani PD, Everard A, Duparc T. Gut microbiota, enteroendocrine functions and metabolism. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2013;13:935–40.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Saadeh M, Ferrante T, Kane A, Shirihai OS, Corkey BE, Deeney JT. Reactive oxygen species stimulate insulin secretion in rat pancreatic islets: studies using mono-oleoyl-glycerol. PLoS One. 2012;7:e30200.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Ciardi C, Jenny M, Tschoner A, Ueberall F, Patsch J, Pedrini M, et al. Food additives such as sodium sulphite, sodium benzoate and curcumin inhibit leptin release in lipopolysaccharide-treated murine adipocytes in vitro. Br J Nutr. 2012;107:826–33.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Mitsuhashi H, Ikeuchi H, Nojima Y. Is sulfite an antiatherogenic compound in wine? Clin Chem. 2001;47:1872–3.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Masic U, Yeomans MR. Does monosodium glutamate interact with macronutrient composition to influence subsequent appetite? Physiol Behav. 2013;116–117:23–9.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Goyal BA, Dureja AG, Kumar D, Dhiman K. A comprehensive insight into the development of animal models for obesity research. Glob J Med Res. 2012;12:39–44.

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Schecter A, Malik N, Haffner D, Smith S, Harris TR, Paepke O, et al. Bisphenol A (BPA) in U.S. food. Environ Sci Technol. 2010;44:9425–30.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Biles JE, McNeal TP, Begley TH, Hollifield HC. Determination of bisphenol-A in reusable polycarbonate food-contact plastics and migration to food-simulating liquids. J Agric Food Chem. 1997;45:3541–4.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Von Goetz N, Wormuth M, Scheringer M, Hungerbühler K. Bisphenol A: how the most relevant exposure sources contribute to total consumer exposure. Risk Anal. 2010;30:473–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Vandenberg LN, Hauser R, Marcus M, Olea N, Welshons WV. Human exposure to bisphenol A (BPA). Reprod Toxicol. 2007;24:139–77.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Elobeid M, Allison D. Putative environmental-endocrine disruptors and obesity: a review. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2008;15:403–8.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.••

    Kuo C-C, Moon K, Thayer KA, Navas-Acien A. Environmental chemicals and type 2 diabetes: an updated systematic review of the epidemiologic evidence. Curr Diab Rep. 2013;13:831–49. This review summarizes 29 epidemiological publications (including 7 prospective studies) regarding how environmental chemicals relate to obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Wang T, Li M, Chen B, Xu M, Xu Y, Huang Y, et al. Urinary bisphenol A (BPA) concentration associates with obesity and insulin resistance. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012;97:E223–7.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Schecter A, Lorber M, Guo Y, Wu Q, Yun SH, Kannan K, et al. Phthalate concentrations and dietary exposure from food purchased in New York State. Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121:473–94.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Feige JN, Gerber A, Casals-Casas C, Yang Q, Winkler C, Bedu E, et al. The pollutant diethylhexyl phthalate regulates hepatic energy metabolism via species-specific PPARα-dependent mechanisms. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118:234–41.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Hatch EE, Nelson JW, Stahlhut RW, Webster TF. Association of endocrine disruptors and obesity: perspectives from epidemiological studies. Int J Androl. 2010;33:324–32.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Zuo Z, Chen S, Wu T, Zhang J, Su Y, Chen Y, et al. Tributyltin causes obesity and hepatic steatosis in male mice. Environ Toxicol. 2011;26:79–85.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Yanik SC, Baker AH, Mann KK, Schlezinger JJ. Organotins are potent activators of PPARγ and adipocyte differentiation in bone marrow multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells. Toxicol Sci. 2011;122:476–88.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Schecter A, Colacino J, Haffner D, Patel K, Opel M, Päpke O, et al. Perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, and organochlorine pesticide contamination in composite food samples from Dallas, Texas, USA. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118:796–802.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Begley TH, White K, Honigfort P, Twaroski ML, Neches R, Walker RA. Perfluorochemicals: potential sources of and migration from food packaging. Food Addit Contam. 2005;22:1023–31.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Gray SL, Shaw AC, Gagne AX, Chan HM. Chronic exposure to PCBs (Aroclor 1254) exacerbates obesity-induced insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia in mice. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2013;76:701–15.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Pelletier C, Imbeault P, Tremblay A. Energy balance and pollution by organochlorines and polychlorinated biphenyls. Obes Rev. 2003;4:17–24.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Wahlang B, Falkner KC, Gregory B, Ansert D, Young D, Conklin DJ, et al. Polychlorinated biphenyl 153 is a diet-dependent obesogen that worsens nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in male C57BL6/J mice. J Nutr Biochem. 2013;24:1587–95.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Baker NA, Karounos M, English V, Fang J, Wei Y, Stromberg A, et al. Coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls impair glucose homeostasis in lean C57BL/6 mice and mitigate beneficial effects of weight loss on glucose homeostasis in obese mice. Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121:105–10.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Slotkin TA. Does early-life exposure to organophosphate insecticides lead to prediabetes and obesity? Reprod Toxicol. 2012;31:297–301.

    Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Weber JV, Sharypov VI. Ethyl carbamate in foods and beverages – a review. In: Lichtfouse E, editor. Clim. Chang. Intercropping, Pest Control Benef. Microorg. Sustain. Agric. Rev. Netherlands: Springer; 2009. p. 429–52.

    Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Schecter A, Päpke O, Tung K-C, Staskal D, Birnbaum L. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers contamination of United States food. Environ Sci Technol. 2004;38:5306–11.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Parzefall W. Risk assessment of dioxin contamination in human food. Food Chem Toxicol. 2002;40:1185–9.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Gilbert-Diamond D, Cottingham KL, Gruber JF, Punshon T, Sayarath V, Gandolfi AJ, et al. Rice consumption contributes to arsenic exposure in US women. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011;108:20656–60.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Al Rmalli SW, Haris PI, Harrington CF, Ayub M. A survey of arsenic in foodstuffs on sale in the United Kingdom and imported from Bangladesh. Sci Total Environ. 2005;337:23–30.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Oymak T, Tokalıoğlu Ş, Yılmaz V, Kartal Ş, Aydın D. Determination of lead and cadmium in food samples by the coprecipitation method. Food Chem. 2009;113:1314–7.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Edwards JR, Prozialeck WC. Cadmium, diabetes and chronic kidney disease. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2009;238:289–93.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Kawakami T, Nishiyama K, Kadota Y, Sato M, Inoue M, Suzuki S. Cadmium modulates adipocyte functions in metallothionein-null mice. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2013;272:625–36.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Gump BB, Stewart P, Reihman J, Lonky E, Darvill T, Parsons PJ, et al. Low-level prenatal and postnatal blood lead exposure and adrenocortical responses to acute stress in children. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116:249–55.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Waring RH, Harris RM. Endocrine disrupters: a human risk? Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2005;244:2–9.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Shao B, Han H, Tu X, Huang L. Analysis of alkylphenol and bisphenol A in eggs and milk by matrix solid phase dispersion extraction and liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr B Anal Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2007;850:412–6.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Raymond R, Bales CW, Bauman DE, Clemmons D, Kleinman R, Lanna D, et al. Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST): a safety assessment. 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Vicini J, Etherton T, Kris-Etherton P, Ballam J, Denham S, Staub R, et al. Survey of retail milk composition as affected by label claims regarding farm-management practices. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:1198–203.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Ternak G. Antibiotics may act as growth/obesity promoters in humans as an inadvertent result of antibiotic pollution? Med Hypotheses. 2005;64:14–6.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Phillips I, Casewell M, Cox T, De Groot B, Friis C, Jones R, et al. Does the use of antibiotics in food animals pose a risk to human health? A critical review of published data. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2004;53:28–52.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Nagao K, Yanagita T. Medium-chain fatty acids: functional lipids for the prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome. Pharmacol Res. 2010;61:208–12.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Kyriazis GA, Soundarapandian MM, Tyrberg B. Sweet taste receptor signaling in beta cells mediates fructose-induced potentiation of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109:E524–32.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Collison KS, Makhoul NJ, Zaidi MZ, Inglis A, Andres BL, Ubungen R, et al. Prediabetic changes in gene expression induced by aspartame and monosodium glutamate in Trans fat-fed C57Bl/6J mice. Nutr Metab. 2013;10:44.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Mohd-Radzman NH, Ismail WIW, Adam Z, Jaapar SS, Adam A. Potential roles of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni in abrogating insulin resistance and diabetes: a review. Evid Based Complement Altern Med. 2013;2013:1–10.

    Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Sang Z, Jiang Y, Tsoi Y-K, Leung KS-Y. Evaluating the environmental impact of artificial sweeteners: a study of their distributions, photodegradation and toxicities. Water Res. 2013;1–15.

  69. 69.

    Stevens LJ, Kuczek T, Burgess JR, Stochelski MA, Arnold LE, Galland L. Mechanisms of behavioral, atopic, and other reactions to artificial food colors in children. Nutr Rev. 2013;71:268–81.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Amin K, Abdel Hameid H, Abd Elsttar AH. Effect of food azo dyes tartrazine and carmoisine on biochemical parameters related to renal, hepatic function and oxidative stress biomarkers in young male rats. Food Chem Toxicol. 2010;48:2994–9.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Corkey BE, Shirihai O. Metabolic master regulators: sharing information among multiple systems. Trends Endocrinol Metab Elsevier Ltd. 2012;23:594–601.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    Axon A, May FEB, Gaughan LE, Williams FM, Blain PG, Wright MC. Tartrazine and sunset yellow are xenoestrogens in a new screening assay to identify modulators of human oestrogen receptor transcriptional activity. Toxicology. 2012;298:40–51.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  73. 73.

    Takahashi S, Mukai H, Tanabe S, Sakayama K, Miyazaki T, Masuno H. Butyltin residues in livers of humans and wild terrestrial mammals and in plastic products. Environ Pollut. 1999;106:213–8.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    Mino Y, Amano F, Yoshioka T, Konishi Y. Determination of organotins in human breast milk by gas chromatography with flame photometric detection. J Heal Sci. 2008;54:224–8.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  75. 75.

    Carfi’ M, Croera C, Ferrario D, Campi V, Bowe G, Pieters R, et al. TBTC induces adipocyte differentiation in human bone marrow long term culture. Toxicology. 2008;249:11–8.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  76. 76.

    Le Maire A, Grimaldi M, Roecklin D, Dagnino S, Vivat-Hannah V, Balaguer P, et al. Activation of RXR-PPAR heterodimers by organotin environmental endocrine disruptors. EMBO Rep. 2009;10:367–73.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  77. 77.

    Hiromori Y, Nishikawa J, Yoshida I, Nagase H, Nakanishi T. Structure-dependent activation of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) γ by organotin compounds. Chem Biol Interact. 2009;180:238–44.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    Kirchner S, Kieu T, Chow C, Casey S, Blumberg B. Prenatal exposure to the environmental obesogen tributyltin predisposes multipotent stem cells to become adipocytes. Mol Endocrinol. 2010;24:526–39.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  79. 79.

    Chamorro-García R, Sahu M, Abbey RJ, Laude J, Pham N, Blumberg B. Transgenerational inheritance of increased fat depot size, stem cell reprogramming, and hepatic steatosis elicited by prenatal exposure to the obesogen tributyltin in mice. Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121:359–66.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  80. 80.

    Wei J, Lin Y, Li Y, Ying C, Chen J, Song L, et al. Perinatal exposure to bisphenol A at reference dose predisposes offspring to metabolic syndrome in adult rats on a high-fat diet. Endocrinology. 2011;152:3049–61.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  81. 81.

    Somm E, Schwitzgebel VM, Toulotte A, Cederroth CR, Combescure C, Nef S, et al. Perinatal exposure to bisphenol A alters early adipogenesis in the rat. Environ Health Perspect. 2009;117:1549–55.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  82. 82.

    Sargis RM, Johnson DN, Choudhury RA, Brady MJ. Environmental endocrine disruptors promote adipogenesis in the 3T3-L1 cell line through glucocorticoid receptor activation. Obesity Nature Publishing Group. 2010;18:1283–8.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  83. 83.

    Angle BM, Do RP, Ponzi D, Stahlhut RW, Drury BE, Nagel SC, et al. Metabolic disruption in male mice due to fetal exposure to low but not high doses of bisphenol A (BPA): Evidence for effects on body weight, food intake, adipocytes, leptin, adiponectin, insulin and glucose regulation. Reprod Toxicol. 2013;42:256–68.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  84. 84.

    Mackay H, Patterson ZR, Khazall R, Patel S, Tsirlin D, Abizaid A. Organizational effects of perinatal exposure to bisphenol-A and diethylstilbestrol on arcuate nucleus circuitry controlling food intake and energy expenditure in male and female CD-1 mice. Endocrinology. 2013;154:1465–75.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  85. 85.

    Anderson OS, Peterson KE, Sanchez BN, Zhang Z, Mancuso P, Dolinoy DC. Perinatal bisphenol A exposure promotes hyperactivity, lean body composition, and hormonal responses across the murine life course. FASEB J. 2013;27:1784–92.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  86. 86.

    Ryan KK, Haller AM, Sorrell JE, Woods SC, Jandacek RJ, Seeley RJ. Perinatal exposure to bisphenol-A and the development of metabolic syndrome in CD-1 mice. Endocrinology. 2010;151:2603–12.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  87. 87.

    Chou K, Wright RO. Phthalates in food and medical devices. J Med Toxicol. 2006;2:126–35.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  88. 88.•

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/FourthReport_UpdatedTables_Sep2013.pdf. The CDC compiled whole blood or serum concentrations and urine concentrations of 250 chemicals in NHANES participants (hundreds of children and thousands of adults).

  89. 89.

    Feige JN, Gelman L, Rossi D, Zoete V, Métivier R, Tudor C, et al. The endocrine disruptor monoethyl-hexyl-phthalate is a selective peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma modulator that promotes adipogenesis. J Biol Chem. 2007;282:19152–66.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  90. 90.

    Hurst CH, Waxman DJ. Activation of PPARα and PPARγ by environmental phthalate monoesters. Toxicol Sci. 2003;74:297–308.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  91. 91.

    Trasande L, Attina TM, Sathyanarayana S, Spanier AJ, Blustein J. Race/ethnicity-specific associations of urinary phthalates with childhood body mass in a nationally representative sample. Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121:501–6.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  92. 92.

    Navas-Acien A, Silbergeld EK, Pastor-Barriuso R, Guallar E. Arsenic exposure and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in US adults. J Am Med Assoc. 2008;300:814–22.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  93. 93.

    Kozul CD, Ely KH, Enelow RI, Hamilton JW. Low-dose arsenic compromises the immune response to influenza A infection in vivo. Environ Health Perspect. 2009;117:1441–7.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  94. 94.

    Douillet C, Currier J, Saunders J, Bodnar WM, Matoušek T, Stýblo M. Methylated trivalent arsenicals are potent inhibitors of glucose stimulated insulin secretion by murine pancreatic islets. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2013;267:11–5.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  95. 95.

    Paul DS, Walton FS, Saunders RJ, Stýblo M. Characterization of the impaired glucose homeostasis produced in C57BL/6 mice by chronic exposure to arsenic and high-fat diet. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119:1104–9.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  96. 96.

    Garciafigueroa DY, Klei LR, Ambrosio F, Barchowsky A. Arsenic-stimulated lipolysis and adipose remodeling is mediated by G-protein-coupled receptors. Toxicol Sci. 2013;134:335–44.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  97. 97.

    United States Environmental Protection Agency. ToxCast™ 2013 [cited 2013 Nov 20]. http://www.epa.gov/ncct/toxcast/.

  98. 98.

    United States Environmental Protection Agency. Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP). 2013 [cited 2013 Nov 20]. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/endo/.

  99. 99.

    Reif DM, Martin MT, Tan SW, Houck KA, Judson RS, Richard AM, et al. Endocrine profiling and prioritization of environmental chemicals using ToxCast data. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118:1714–20.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  100. 100.•

    Seth A, Stemple DL, Barroso I. The emerging use of zebrafish to model metabolic disease. Dis Model Mech. 2013;6:1080–8. This review discusses the advantages and disadvantages of zebrafish models for the study of obesity and diabetes.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  101. 101.

    Lyche J, Nourizadeh-Lillabadi R, Almaas C, Stavik B, Berg V, Skare J, et al. Natural mixtures of persistant organic pollutants (POP) increase weight gain, advance puberty, and induce changes in gene expression associated with steroid hormones and obesity in female zebrafish. J Toxicol Environ Heal Part A. 2010;73:1032–57.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  102. 102.

    Heindel JJ, vom Saal FS. Role of nutrition and environmental endocrine disrupting chemicals during the perinatal period on the aetiology of obesity. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2009;304:90–6.

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by the Superfund Research Program grant P42ES007381 (J.J.S), DK35914 (B.E.C), and DK56690 (B.E.C). A.L.S. is supported by the USDA AFRI/NIFA post-doctoral fellowship program, grant no. 2012-67012-20658. We would like to thank Albert R. Jones IV, Kalypso Karastergiou, Ian Kleckner, and Tova Meshulam for helpful discussions while preparing the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethics Guidelines

Conflict of Interest

Amber L. Simmons, Jennifer J. Schlezinger, and Barbara E. Corkey declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Barbara E. Corkey.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Simmons, A.L., Schlezinger, J.J. & Corkey, B.E. What Are We Putting in Our Food That Is Making Us Fat? Food Additives, Contaminants, and Other Putative Contributors to Obesity. Curr Obes Rep 3, 273–285 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-014-0094-y

Download citation


  • Obesity
  • BPA
  • Bisphenol A
  • Food additives
  • Preservatives
  • Pesticides
  • Plastics
  • Pollutants
  • Contaminants