A class of chemicals commonly used in everyday consumer items have been linked to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from the University of Novi Sad based in Serbia say there is an association between coming into contact with phthalates and a greater chance of developing metabolic disorders – although this conclusion was based on a small study.

Commonly used during the production of plastics, phthalates are detected in items ranging from instant coffee, milk and bottled water to food packaging, perfumen, shampoo and make up.

The abstract is available following presentation at the European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting, although until the full results are made available it is unclear how diet and physical activity affected the study’s results.

The research team examined levels of phthalate absorbed by people and compared it with their body weight, whether they had type 2 diabetes, whether they were at high risk of type 2, and their liver and metabolic functions.

The results indicated that people with a greater exposure to phthalates were also associated with increased indicators for liver damage, insulin resistance and cholesterol in people with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Previous research has linked exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals with potentially poor fertility and development outcomes and an increased risk of obesity in both rodents and people. But, this is the first study to examine the link between phthalate exposure and obesity and metabolism.

Professor Milica Medic Stojanoska said: “Although a small association study, these findings suggest that not only do phthalates alter metabolism to increase the risk of obesity and diabetes but that they are also causing toxic damage to the liver.”

Prof Stojanoska and her team plan to investigate the impact of chemicals which disrupt hormones within adults as well as adolescents and babies.

She added: “We need to inform people about the potential adverse effects of endocrine disruptors on their health and look at ways to minimise our contact with these harmful chemicals.”

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