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Daily chemical exposure adds to obesity and diabetes risk


Brussels, 20 March 2012 – A scientific review of more than 240 papers published today by CHEM Trust provides new urgency for banning certain chemicals to protect health. (1)

“Review of the Science Linking Chemical Exposures to the Human Risk of Obesity and Diabetes” was undertaken by two of the world’s leading epidemiology researchers, Professor Miquel Porta (2) and Korean Professor Duk-Hee Lee. It summarises recent laboratory investigations and community-based studies linking increasing incidence of obesity and diabetes with exposure to certain common chemicals.

Scientific evidence on the role of chemicals in obesity and diabetes has grown rapidly over recent years, and has become particularly persuasive during the past six years. It challenges the view that rising rates of obesity and diabetes can be explained by bad diet and lack of exercise alone.

The review highlights studies showing that mice exposed to low doses of chemicals known as “endocrine (or hormone) disruptors” in their food produce offspring that are obese in adulthood, whereas non exposed mothers on the same diet do not produce such young. It also shows evidence linking people’s bodily levels of contaminants with their increased likelihood of developing diabetes.

Professor Porta says: “Our review provides the strongest possible incentive to minimise human exposure to all relevant hormone disruptors. This is especially important for women planning pregnancy as it appears to be the foetus developing in utero that is at greatest risk.” The human population is exposed to these suspect chemicals on an everyday basis, mostly via food and consumer products. Some of the chemicals identified as suspects have already been banned, such as DDT and PCBs, but others are still on the market, such as Bisphenol A (which escape into food from plastic packaging) and brominated flame retardants (which are released from upholstered furniture and electronic equipment).

Lisette van Vliet, Toxics Policy Advisor at Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) says: “The EU is currently working to decide how to tell which chemicals are EDCs so that they can be controlled more carefully or removed entirely from the market. But those definitions won’t be given until the end of 2013 and even then will not apply to all relevant EU laws. This is very slow. We’d like to see European governments taking swift regulatory action and companies making pro-active moves towards safer alternatives. For example, getting BPA out of all food packaging materials now.”

CHEM Trust and Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) have jointly produced a leaflet about the report outlining the preventive action that individuals and policy makers can take. (3)

Genon Jensen, Executive Director of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) says that given rapidly rising rates of obesity and diabetes in Europe, the benefit of political action to reduce human exposure to chemicals is likely to be considerable.

“The number of people with diabetes in the EU is estimated to rise from approximately 33 million in 2010 to 37 million in 2025. We therefore need a much greater focus on prevention at every level. If chemical exposures play even a small part in diabetes, the benefits of better chemicals regulation will be significant, both in terms of better quality of life and cost savings for health services.” (3)

Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose, who co-chairs the European Parliamentary working group on diabetes, would like to see all avenues in the prevention of diabetes pursued rapidly. “Recent estimates suggest that about 10% of EU health budgets are taken up by diabetes. This is simply not sustainable. If this new review shows there is enough evidence, action should be taken very swiftly to help bring down rising incidence of diabetes and obesity.” (4)

A resolution in the European Parliament addressing the EU diabetes epidemic was adopted on 14 March. It recalls the importance of integrating prevention into “environmental, food and consumer policies”. Motions were received from MEPs Christel Schaldemose and Linda McAvan, on behalf of the S&D Group; Sarah Ludford, Antonyia Parvanova, Frédérique Ries and Giommaria Uggias, on behalf of the ALDE Group, Simon Busuttil and Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė, on behalf of the PPE Group, and Marisa Matias, Patrick Le Hyaric, Kartika Tamara Liotard, Nikolaos Chountis and Jiří Maštálka, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.


Genon Jensen, Executive Director, Health and Environment Alliance, E-mail:

Tel: +32 2 234 36 42

Lisette van Vliet, Toxics Policy Advisor, Health and Environment Alliance, E-mail:

Tel: +32 2 234 36 45, Mobile: +32 484 614 528

Diana Smith, Communications, Health and Environment Alliance, E-mail:

Tel: +33 1 55 25 25 84


1. CHEM Trust press release and full report are downloadable from and from

  • CHEM Trust press release: click here
  • CHEM Trust executive summary and conclusions: click here (8 pages)
  • CHEM Trust report: click here (26 pages)

2. Professor Miquel Porta, Medical School at Barcelona University also has a professorial role in the US and is (co-)author of 280 papers and editor of several leading epidemiology publications.

3. HEAL and CHEM Trust brochure entitled, “Chemicals in our food and consumer products – A missing link in the epidemics of obesity and diabetes?” (available in English, French, Spanish, German, Hungarian, Czech, Dutch and Swedish). For additional information on the availability contact

4. For figures of various European countries: See “Figures on obesity and diabetes in the European Union” at

Figures from France on obesity and diabetes available in ECOD report, published 14 March 2012, report (in English at report)

Last updated on 6 April 2012

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