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Study: Fast Food Comes With a Helping of Industrial Chemicals

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Phthalates may be hitching a ride on your Big Mac

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Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

It's generally accepted that fast food isn't particularly healthy, but a new study out this week suggests that people who consume more fast food may also be ingesting potentially harmful chemicals. According to Bloomberg, the research provides evidence that fast food is a major source of a category of industrial chemicals called phthalates.

Phthalates are used to make plastic and vinyl more flexible and durable and are common in a variety of household products such as soap, cosmetics, flooring, window blinds, and food packaging. Fast food is particularly susceptible to phthalate exposure because it is highly processed, packaged, and often handled with gloves, reports CNN. While the impact of these chemicals on human health isn't fully understood, some research on rats has shown instances of male infertility associated with phthalate exposure. Other studies are now looking into the impact of phthalates on pregnant women and children. Several governments have already taken action to reduce phthalates. Japan banned food workers from using vinyl gloves and the European Union has also moved to reduce their concentration levels in food and toys.

The latest study looked at the relationship between the amount of fast food individuals consumed and the level of phthalates found in their urine using data from a Centers for Disease Control survey collected between 2003 and 2010. A total of 8,877 adults and children participated. Those who reported having consumed 35 percent or more of their calories from a fast food restaurant in the last 24 hours showed heightened levels of the chemicals DEHP and DiNP (two common phthalates) compared to participants who had not consumed fast food.

The National Restaurant Association and the American Chemical Council are currently reviewing the study. The organizations say the levels of phthalates identified in the surveys were still below requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Of course, there are plenty of other health concerns related to fast food. One researcher claimed that eating McDonald's for 10 days straight completely destroyed his son's gut bacteria. Still, other researchers have gathered evidence demonstrating that dining at a high-end restaurant can be even less healthy than eating at a fast food joint.

Correction: The American Chemical Council is working with the National Restaurant Association, not the American Chemical Society as was previously stated in this piece.

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