As explained by senior author Ami Zota, ScD, MS, and assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the University, "Our findings suggest that dining out may be an important, and previously under-recognized source of exposure to phthalates for the U.S. population."
Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected between 2005 and 2014. They analyzed the nutritional information provided by 10,253 participants within 24 hours and cross-checked that with each person’s urine sample. They found that 61 percent of the participants had eaten out on the previous day. Disturbingly, of this population, the authors noted that:
Overall, the team concluded that people who ate the most fast food, burgers, and fries, had phthalate levels 40 percent higher than those who ate at home or prepared their own food.
It is interesting to note that phthalate exposure increases when dining out, regardless of the type of restaurant you choose to go to. These levels do fluctuate, with fast food outlets being the most dangerous, but it does highlight the importance of eating at home and with food that you yourself have made.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl. They are a popularly used in the production of cosmetics, personal care products, shower curtains, detergents, adhesives, and a lot more. Data reveal that exposure to these chemicals can cause several adverse side effects, not least of which is damage to the reproductive system.
The CDC has admitted that phthalate exposure is widespread in the U.S. population, with the vectors of exposure coming primarily from soaps, body washes, shampoos, cosmetics, and similar personal care products.
Phthalates are noted to be a contributing factor to the rapidly declining global fertility rates. Studies have shown that high levels of phthalate exposure can drastically affect semen quality. Researchers saw that the chemicals decreased a man’s total sperm count and the quality of his sperm. (Related: Men's phthalate exposure associated with fertility problems.)
Similarly, a recent study described a link between phthalate exposure and precocious puberty in girls. Precocious puberty refers to the early onset of puberty. For girls, puberty is considered precocious if it occurs before the age of eight.
Precocious puberty may cause several problems. An early growth spurt may cause rapid bone maturation and lead to future complications.