Today, nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults and 21 percent of youth are obese. This trend is on the upswing and the worldwide population is becoming more obese – which is increasing the risk of other conditions like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease whose prevalence has doubled globally in the last 30 years. But you may be surprised to learn that it’s not just food that is making us fat.
Experiments using animal models have shown that exposure to chemicals used in industry and found in plastics, preservatives, pesticides and flame retardants, just to name a few, may be important contributors to the growing number of metabolic disorders – including obesity.
One of the research goals in my lab is to identify environmental chemicals that may contribute to these increased rates of metabolic diseases and to decipher the mechanisms through which they act. This line of work began with the unexpected discovery that a chemical (tributyltin, or TBT) we were studying for other reasons could activate a hormone receptor linked to the development of fat. We went on to show that TBT could make mice exposed during prenatal life fatter and that this trait could be transmitted to future generations.