In an article published on March 29, 2018 by The Guardian, journalist Patrick Greenfield reported on a new scientific study finding that people who eat out at restaurants have increased levels of phthalates in their bodies compared to people who prepare and eat food at home. The study was published on the same day in the peer-reviewed journal Environment International and was conducted by Julia Varshavsky from the University of California, Berkeley, U.S., and colleagues.

The researchers evaluated data for 10,253 participants from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected between 2005 and 2014. They analyzed the links between what participants reportedly ate in the previous 24 hours and their urinary levels of phthalate break-down products. Varshavsky and colleagues found that people who consumed more food at restaurants, cafeterias, and fast-food outlets had about 35% higher phthalate levels than people who mostly ate food purchased at grocery stores and prepared at home. The association between eating out and urinary phthalate levels was significant for all age groups but strongest for teenagers: Adolescents who frequently ate out had 55% higher levels of phthalates than teens who ate at home. Further, certain foods, such as cheeseburgers and sandwiches purchased at restaurants, cafeterias, or fast-food outlets, were associated with increased phthalate levels. Overall, 61% of study participants reported to have eaten out the previous day.

“This study suggests food prepared at home is less likely to contain high levels of phthalates, chemicals linked to fertility problems, pregnancy complications and other health issues,” stated Amy Zota from George Washington University, U.S., and senior author of the study. The study further suggests that “dining out may be an important, and previously under-recognized source of exposure to phthalates for the U.S. population,” she added. Phthalates are used, among other applications, in food packaging, processing, and production materials from where they can migrate into food. In a previous study published in 2016, Zota and colleagues found an association between high fast food consumption and increased urinary phthalate levels (FPF reported).

The online Master in Public Health program from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, MPH@GW, has created a visualization of the 2018 study’s results.

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Patrick Greenfield (March 29, 2018). “Eating out increases levels of phthalates in the body, study finds.The Guardian

MPH@GW Staff (March 29, 2018). “The dangerous chemicals found in fast food and restaurants.” Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University

Brian Bienkowski (March 29, 2018). “Would you like phthalates with that burger?Environmental Health News

Jeff Glorfeld (March 29, 2018). “Eating out increases exposure to toxic phthalates.Cosmos

Oliver Moody (March 29, 2018). “Plastic health risk raised by takeaway food.The Times

Chemical Watch (April 5, 2018). “Dining out may increase phthalate exposure, study suggests.


Varshavsky, J.R., et al. (2018). “Dietary sources of cumulative phthalates exposure among the U.S. general population in NHANES 2005–2014.” Environment International (published online March 29, 2018).