Obesogens: Is there a chemical link to obesity?

Junk food
In this file photo, junk food sits on a table March 6, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Obesogen is a relatively new term that you may soon hear more about. It refers to chemicals that some scientists believe are linked to obesity.

Bisphenol-A (BPA)is one chemical considered by some to be an obesogen and it's found in many foods and packaging. The FDA will decide later this month whether to ban it from food and beverage packaging.

On The Daily Circuit Thursday, we'll have a discussion of the controversial science behind obesogens and what researchers are learning about the complexity behind obesity.

Bruce Blumberg, professor of developmental and cell biology at University of California, Irvine, coined the term obesogen. He studies a number of chemicals he believes are linked to obesity.

"So the ones we study, tributyltin and triphenyltin, actually cause exposed animals to have more and bigger fat cells," Blumberg said in The Atlantic. "The animals that we treat with these chemicals don't eat a different diet than the ones who don't get fat. They eat the same diet -- we're not challenging them with a high-fat or a high-carbohydrate diet. They're eating normal food, and they're getting fatter."

He'll join the discussion along with Michael Dedekian, a pediatric endocrinologist at Maine Medical Center where he runs a pediatric obesity clinic.

"The cause of obesity is complex; we have a popular image that obesity is within a person's control," Dedekian said. "It's only part of the story. Your genetics, parenting, pregnancy weight of mothers and chemicals play an important role."

When Blumberg started talking about obesogens, Dedekian said he was skeptical.

"Obesogens could be a sexy way to put yourself on the map," he said. "But after meeting him and his other colleagues, I was convinced that what he is doing is good science... The problem with a lot of this stuff is the research is lacking. I think that's why I have a healthy skepticism. Blumberg has done strong science but it's been done in lab."


Obesity is a complex issue. Even if obesogens are contributing to the epidemic, that doesn't take away personal responsibility. There's still a lot to learn about what causes obesity.