By Mike Pomranz
Updated April 14, 2016
Credit: © Juan Carlos Pascual/Getty Images

Though few people out there have deluded themselves into thinking that eating fast food is healthy, new research suggests that the ways in which fast food can be unhealthy may run even deeper than we think.

A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed a significant correlation between people who had eaten fast food in the past 24 hours and elevated levels of two industrial chemicals, DEHP and DiNP, also known as phthalates, that are used to make some plastics. Though the exact health ramifications of exposure to these chemicals – which are legal for use in many commercial products – remains unknown, many countries around the world, including the US, have grown concerned about their potential negative impact, with some believing they can hinder development in children and pregnant women or pose risks to reproductive health.

The realization that fast food may contribute to phthalate exposure comes after researchers from George Washington University reviewed the data from about 9,000 people that participated in a federal nutrition survey. According to Bloomberg, it’s speculated that fast food can have increased levels of phthalates due to processing and packaging or from the gloves worn by workers. Japan even banned vinyl gloves in food preparation after concerns over DEHP. Although this particular study was done over a brief period of time so it can’t say definitively there is a causal relationship, although, as Bloomberg points out, “the association is strong.”

An even bigger question is how do people avoid these chemicals, especially when the Center for Disease Control states that “exposure is widespread in the U.S. population.” Though the study doesn’t specifically show any negative impact from fast food-related phthalates exposure, Ami Zota, one of the paper’s authors, still suggests aiming for foods that aren’t highly processed to reduce exposure. “Try to eat low on the food chain,” she told Bloomberg.

So no cannibalism – especially since recent research shows human beings can have high levels of phthalates.