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expert reaction to conference presentation about environmental chemicals and whether they are ‘obesity-promoting’

A conference abstract presented at the 59th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting looks at exposure to obesity-promoting chemicals (obesogens) and calls for stronger regulations.


Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, said:

“The conference organisers haven’t provided a proper abstract of what Professor Trasande might be going to say, so it’s hard to provide any meaningful comment.  There’s essentially nothing to judge the talk on, and no data or evidence provided to be able to assess, so it’s impossible to say whether there is robust evidence to back up any claims made.”


Dr Michelle Bellingham, Senior Lecturer (Veterinary Science & Education), University of Glasgow, said:

“There is now a wealth of evidence that certain chemicals that humans are exposed to ubiquitously in their environment can interfere with the hormone systems that regulate bodyweight.  It is time that we fully recognise the role that these so-called obesogenic (or obesity-promoting) endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) may play in the increasing incidence of obesity in adults and children which presents an increasing global health and economic burden.  Dr Trasande is a world renowned leader in the field of endocrine disruptor research who has published several large population human studies on the health and economic costs of human EDC exposure.  While human studies are inherently difficult to prove causation between EDC exposure and effect, we must also bear in mind that biological relevance and statistical significance are not necessarily linked.  If we can, as Dr Trasande suggests, implement simple policies that safely reduce people’s exposure to obesity-promoting chemicals which could have both health and economic benefits, then this provides a win-win situation for all.  It is not time to sit on our hands and wait for further evidence, we need action now on limiting human EDC exposure where we can, to protect the health of our future generations.”


Dr Adam Jacobs, Senior Director of Biostatistics at Premier Research, said:

“The presentation by Dr Trasande does not present any new data, but is a review of existing literature.  That literature has sometimes found statistically significant but weak associations between some phthalates and bisphenols and weight gain, but the results have not been consistent.  Many of the investigated associations have not been statistically significant.  Data generally come from correlational studies which by their nature cannot prove causation.  The small effects observed in some studies could easily be explained by residual confounding.  The hypothesis that phthalates and bisphenols can cause obesity is an interesting one, but is not supported by robust data.”



Conference abstract: ‘Abstract WG2.1: Environmental obesogens’, was presented by Leonardo Trasande at the 59th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting.  This was under embargo until 12.10pm UK time (13:10 CEST) on Friday 24 September 2021.

This is not peer-reviewed.



Declared interests

Dr Michelle Bellingham: “No conflicts of interest.”

Dr Adam Jacobs: “I have no competing interests to declare.”

None others received.



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