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Obesogen: An Environmental Factor Triggering Obesity

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As compared to other nations, United State is one of the world’s richest nation with well-developed hospitals and other health facilities. With advanced technologies and discoveries of several vaccines and antibiotics there is drastic reduced in morbidity and mortality from serious illnesses. Despite been highly developed and resourceful nation, people of United State faces a myriad of health-related problems. “USA is experiencing an obesity epidemic” (Kuo, Coller, Stewart-Brown, & Blair, 2016, p. 32). According to CDC, in 2015-2016 the prevalence of obesity in United State was 39. 8% and affected 93. 3 million US adults. What concerns public health is that obesity is associated with other health problems such as heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer and it is becoming prevalent among young children as well. “Health experts suggest that obesity is shortening life expectancy at higher rate than accidents, homicides, and suicides combined” (Kuo, Coller, Stewart-Brown, & Blair, 2016, p. 32). The annual medical cost increases, as the prevalence of obesity increases in all racial and ethnic groups and affects all age group members. In 2008, the annual medical cost of obesity was estimated $147 billion.

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Looking at the prevalence and rising medical spending, it is very important to identify numerous factors contributing to increase in the occurrence of obesity. Several factors can play role in overweight and obesity. Factors include: Improper diet and eating habits, for example; eating fried foods, not consuming recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, etc. , lack of physical activity or sedentary lifestyle, genetics, and hormones like under active thyroid, PCOS and Cushing syndrome and environmental factors such as walkability, availability of sidewalks and healthy foods, recreational facilities, affordable gym, etc. all these factors contributes to obesity. Apart from above mentioned factors, evidence suggests that environmental chemical “obesogens” may alter human metabolism and predispose some people to gain weight (Holtcamp, 2012). Every time when we think of obesity we only think about poor or lack of nutrition and physical activity, but scientists have explored role of chemicals and come up with the foreign chemical compound called obesogne as potential contributor to obesity.

As per the definition, “Obesogens are the chemicals that inappropriately alter lipid homeostasis and fat storage, metabolic setpoints, energy balance, or the regulation of appetite and satiety to promote fat accumulation and obesity” (Kirchner, Kieu, Chow, Casey, & Blumberg, 2010). Introduction to environmental link to obesity (Obesogen) Over the past several years the prevalence of obesity has increased steadily, and scientist believe that it is not just due to the genetic influences but looking at the rapid increase in the prevalence of the obesity in short period of time researchers believe that environmental changes and various environmental factors might also be the contributing factors. Numerous chemicals are present in the environment and they are used for various purposes. Some of these chemicals are toxic to humans and they might be harmful and interferes normal body functions in human as well as animals. Chemicals which interferes with hormones function are known as endocrine disruptors and according to the researchers, “endocrine disruptors have been shown to be involved in weight gain and it may be contributing to the obesity in the United States” (2018, May 2). The role of environmental chemicals “obesogen” in obesity has got increased attention because of several new discoveries and studies conducted on the effects of environmental chemicals on human and animals.

The term obesogens was coined around 2006 by Bruce Blumberg, when in early 2000 Blumberg and his team was studying whether organotin chemicals like tributyltin (TBT), a chemical used in marine paint to prevent organisms from growing on the exteriors of ships could activate the nuclear hormone receptors like steroids and Xenobiotic receptors they found that, TBT could cause sex reversal in fish. The researchers’ further studies found that TBT activated a fatty acid receptor called peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor gamma (PPARγ), which is a master regulator of the fat cell development. According to Blumberg, “TBT is changing the metabolism of exposed animals, predisposing them to make more and bigger fat cells” (Holtcamp, 2012). Blumberg in his research found that, when pregnant mice (in utero) where given TBT their offspring were heavier than those not exposed to TBT, he concluded that, even if their offspring might eat normal food, they will be fatter compared to the one whose moms were not exposed to TBT. Looking at the Blumberg research it can conclude that, prenatal exposure to TBT can lead to fat accumulation in adults, despite access to normal diet and exercise.

There are many questions which arises when linking environment chemical obesogen to obesity. Questions like: How obesogen works in our body? Does obesogen directly causes obesity? Obesogens are believed to work in many ways in our bodies. They might imitate or prevent the normal functioning of hormone. They may increase susceptibility to gain weight, especially when the body gets exposed to obesogen during prenatal and developmental stage. Obesogen could also encourage the body to store fat either by increasing the fat storage capacity or by increasing the number of fat cells present in the body. Studies on fetal and prenatal development have linked obesogen to increase insulin resistant in children. Also, obesogen prevent release of leptin, the hormone which reduces appetite in human body, this might affect the way body regulates feeling of fullness. Preventing release of leptin may make it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight, because it might result in increase intake of unhealthy food in the diet.

15 April 2020

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