Scientists Say: Obesogens
Obesogens (noun, “o-BEE-so-gens”)
Obesogens are chemicals that can increase the risk of weight gain. Obesogens belong to a group of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. These chemicals mimic hormones, a group of chemicals that play many roles in the body. Hormones help guide our sexual development. They also determine when we sleep and control how much we eat.
When endocrine disrupters enter the body, they can imitate hormone signals. This can change the way our bodies function. Obesogens can work in this way. As a result, they can increase the number of fat cells in the body or make the body store more fat. They can also change how often someone feels full or hungry.
Chemicals such as bisphenol A — a molecule formerly used in plastics — may be obesogens. Cigarette smoke and some kinds of air pollution may also act as obesogens.
In a sentence
Even some house dust may contain materials that make fat cells grow.
cell The smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the unaided eye, it consists of a watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Depending on their size, animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells. Most organisms, such as yeasts, molds, bacteria and some algae, are composed of only one cell.
chemical A substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (bond) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made when two hydrogen atoms bond to one oxygen atom. Its chemical formula is H2O. Chemical also can be an adjective to describe properties of materials that are the result of various reactions between different compounds.
development (in biology) The growth of an organism from conception through adulthood, often undergoing changes in chemistry, size and sometimes even shape.
endocrine disruptor A substance that mimics the action (sometimes well, sometimes poorly) of one of the body’s natural hormones. By doing this, the fake hormone can inappropriately turn on, speed up or shut down important cellular processes.
fat A natural oily or greasy substance occurring in plants and in animal bodies, especially when deposited as a layer under the skin or around certain organs. Fat’s primary role is as an energy reserve. Fat also is a vital nutrient, though it can be harmful if consumed in excessive amounts.
hormone (in zoology and medicine) A chemical produced in a gland and then carried in the bloodstream to another part of the body. Hormones control many important body activities, such as growth. Hormones act by triggering or regulating chemical reactions in the body. (in botany) A chemical that serves as a signaling compound that tells cells of a plant when and how to develop, or when to grow old and die.
molecule An electrically neutral group of atoms that represents the smallest possible amount of a chemical compound. Molecules can be made of single types of atoms or of different types. For example, the oxygen in the air is made of two oxygen atoms (O2), but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).
obese Extremely overweight. Obesity is associated with a wide range of health problems, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
obesogens Any of a host of different chemicals in the environment — many of them industrial pollutants — that appear capable of signaling the body to fatten up.
phthalates A family of chemicals used as solvents and added to plastics to increase their flexibility.
plastic Any of a series of materials that are easily deformable; or synthetic materials that have been made from polymers (long strings of some building-block molecule) that tend to be lightweight, inexpensive and resistant to degradation.
smoke Plumes of microscopic particles that float in the air. They can be comprised of anything very small. But the best known types are pollutants created by the incomplete burning of oil, wood and other carbon-based materials.