Food packaging can cause weight gain, says German researcher

Researchers from the Helmholtz Centre (UFZ) in Germany said plasticisers are suspected of having an influence on consumer’s body weight.

Dr Martin von Bergen, of Helmholtz
Dr Martin von Bergen, of Helmholtz

Researchers have published a study in the PLOS ONE journal showing that the phthalate DEHP leads to weight gain and revealed the metabolic processes involved.

“Correlations between increased phthalate concentrations in the human body and the development of overweight have already been proven in epidemiological studies and should be analysed in more detail,” said Martin von Bergen.

Phthalates are used as plasticisers in polymer processing to make plastics soft, flexible or tensile.

Under certain conditions, phthalates can also emerge from the material and be uptaken into our bodies most prominently by our diet.

Phthalates are mainly transferred from the food packaging of fatty products, e.g. cheese or sausages.

However, Von Bergen added that currently the team knew little about how phthalates have an effect within the body and how they can influence body weight.

The study shows where phthalates can interfere with metabolism and pave the way for weight gain. In studies at the University of Leipzig, mice exposed to the phthalate DEHP in their drinking water gained a substantial amount of weight. This was particularly true of the female animals.

“It is evident that phthalates seriously interfere with the hormone balance. They give rise to significant changes, e.g. weight gain, even in low concentrations,” said von Bergen.

“Our aim is to conduct solid basic research so that our results can then help the authorities responsible for assessing the risk of chemicals in Germany and at European level to perform their evaluations,” he added.