Even the Fast Food Wrapper Could Be Bad for Your Health


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  38 comments   :  14,289 Views

We all know that if youíre trying to eat a healthy diet, you donít eat most fast food items on a regular basis. Itís okay to enjoy those foods now and then, but all of the extra fat and calories arenít so good for your health- or your waistline. But a new study says the food isnít the only thing you have to worry about. The wrapper on your cheeseburger or even the bag for your microwave popcorn could also be bad for your health.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, exposed rats to chemicals called perfluoroalkyls, which are used in coating food wrappers. These chemicals repel oil and help keep grease from seeping through the paper. An earlier study by the same researchers found that the wrappers are a source of perfluoroalkyls found in human blood. This new study compared the concentrations found in rats to the results of the previous study to estimate human exposure.

Previous research on these types of chemicals (specifically, PFOA, a type of perfluoroalkyl) has found that they can stay in the body for an extended period of time. They "have been associated with changes in sex hormones and cholesterol, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances." The researchers concluded that the metabolism of these chemicals found in food wrappers could be a major source of human exposure to PFOA, as well as other chemicals like it.

Humans are naturally exposed to these chemicals through food and dust. But because of how long they can stay in the body (years) and how the body metabolizes them, the researchers recommend limiting exposure as much as possible when you can control it.

I think itís easy to get paranoid about your food from studies like this. We are naturally going to be exposed to lots of chemicals every day- whether itís in the food we eat or the air we breathe. But I also think itís good to be aware and limit your exposure when you do have the choice. For example, I drink from a BPA-free water bottle, and try to buy organic produce when I know it really matters. Personally, I like to know if packaging could be affecting the food Iím about to eat. Then I can decide if itís worth the risk or not.

What do you think? Do you pay much attention to studies like this? Why or why not?

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  • 38
    Interesting article full of good tips. I use some of these already - water aerobics, other exercise. My best tips are getting outdoors (light helps the natural endorphins) and a casual walk, water exercise if you can stand being on water, good relaxing music, knitting and crocheting, and finally I get a medical massage once a month. I have also had to learn to listen to my body and stop when needed.
    As for cures. I believe in one rule - nothing works for everyone. Nothing works all the time for the same person. Some things some of the time for everyone. You have to be open but responsible to yourself. If it sounds silly, it probably is. - 4/21/2015   12:57:52 PM
  • 37
    I do pay attention...in my early 20's (late 40's now)...I was diagnosed with a severe case of hypothyroidism (Hashimoto's with Schmidt's (ovarian failure)) and went through menopause then, so was never able to have children. Hash. is an autoimmune disease condition, with unknown cause; I suspect that it may be that dad's DNA had something slightly wrong-he's a chemist**, retired now, and was in grad school (greatest exposure to toxics when doing own experiments, especially back in the '60's when I was conceived) AND/OR the ddt's that were in the environment, especially in MI then. This caused me to take up the banner of buying organics early...I was on the board of my organic garden club eventually. We don't really know the TOTAL synergistic effects of "living through chemistry", my dad's favorite phrase, though he includes 'better' in it; the environment has SO many more pollutants in it now. I ended up doing some studies in hydrogeochemistry (ground water clean-up) myself, because water is one of the key vectors of quick chemical transport, and is so necessary for life. Though this one experiment may be less comprehensive and less conclusive, the totality of hidden chemical exposure (think about the dyes and bleaches that went into making the paper, and where they are being recycled in the eco-system...our bodies end up huge sinks for various chemicals, as we are at the top of the food chain and carcinogens accumulate uphill. Who knew they treated the paper? Maybe they should go back to using wax paper? I do pay attention, and try to live as simple and clean a lifestyle as I am able. My grandmother just passed, at over 101 and a half years, so I have longevity in my bloodline, but the toxic load we all carry in our bloodstream may fell this 'early crone' before her time.

    **My chemistry teacher in HS said he taught vs. working in a lab because lab chemists have a 10 year shorter life-span than the gen'l population - 12/9/2010   2:36:53 PM
  • 36
    Just another reason to try my best to avoid fast food places! This is good to know. - 11/30/2010   10:30:51 AM
  • 35
    Information is good, but moderation in all things I think is the answer. - 11/29/2010   8:12:29 PM
    As many have said, there isn't a great deal of information in the article, so one should do their own research and decide accordingly. In the last year or so, there has been more published about the class of chemicals called "obesogenes" that I believe PFOA falls into (like BPA). A few years ago, by comparison, no one was really aware of BPA, but now, BPA-free has become a selling point. Personally, I work hard to try and manage what goes into my body. To know that something a inocuous as a warpper could undo some of my hard work concerns me. Definitely research this more on the web yourselves, and then decide how significant you think it is. For me, like the author, I also use BPA-free products and focus on organic produce for the "dirty dozen" (follow the author's link above for more information). - 11/29/2010   4:32:12 PM
  • 33
    The media pick up on these types of studies and IMHO blow them out of proportion. I agree with FIERYSPARKED, and if we were really worried, we would read the study carefully and make our own conclusions. I also agree with JASPEED - everything in moderation! Three years ago, I was eating McDonald's food about 3x a week. I am of the opinion that the FOOD was more likely contributing to my poor health than the WRAPPER. - 11/29/2010   1:11:17 PM
  • 32
    I don't worry much about these "studies", remember back when "they" said not to eat nuts because they were fattening, now they are touted as a health food, same thing with coffee, etc. Tired of these studies. If you take everything down to the lowest common denominator, just breathing the air "is not good for your health", but I haven't seen any news about a new planet to move to yet. Bah!!! Find another "talking point" to fill up space. - 11/28/2010   9:52:11 PM
  • 31
    I like to be aware of these studies, but I doubt it will cause me to change my habits. If several more studies are released that reinforce the findings, I may consider making adjustments. - 11/28/2010   7:41:43 PM
    I don't eat a lot of fast food but a person could go crazy with all the worries that these studies produce. I try to live by "everything in moderation". - 11/28/2010   1:26:37 PM
  • 29
    Fierysparked said everything I would say. Thanks for the informative blog nonetheless. - 11/28/2010   11:49:16 AM
  • LQUEST4754
    I am undecided at this point. I DO know that looking after what is healthful for the consumer is NOT a priority for the fast food industry. I noticed these papers did not feel "normal" long ago. - 11/27/2010   8:44:51 PM
  • 27
    I try not to eat a lot of fast food, so really give no thought to the wrapper. We do have so much to worry about today, that at this time, it's the least of my concerns. - 11/27/2010   4:01:42 PM
    leaving the fast food behind..... so no worries here! - 11/27/2010   3:58:44 PM
  • 25
    I agree with many of the comments. I so rarely eat fastfood, I'm not all that much concerned. I read an artical several years ago that described all the ways our environment can kill us from the time we get up and go to work/school until we get home and even if you decided to not leave the house! It was meant to be humorous, but was all too true how we are told about all the studies and how paranoid of things that may or may not could harm us. We need to try to do our best in what we feel is healthy for us and the rest will happem as it should. It is like saying we shouldn't exercise because we may pull a muscle or drop a weight on our foot and break our bones!! I'm just saying..... - 11/27/2010   3:29:04 PM
  • 24
    Personally I think the food itself is a much bigger danger than the wrapper it comes in. I mean, If I was eating fast food 5 times a week, I would have a lot more to worry about than the chemical in the wrapper. - 11/27/2010   1:31:00 PM
  • 23
    Some of the answers you're wanting are in the full article. Click on The Study (second paragraph) listed in the article and you'll get more info and also see that this is an on-going research issue with the US, Canadian, and European governments.

    What happened to the rats exposed to the chemical (orally and injected with the chemical)? Tumors, delayed development, changes in sex hormones and cholesterol, and even early death.

    Why is this article so important? Three assumptions that were made back in 2007 were wrong: "That the chemicals wouldn't move off paper into food, they wouldn't become available to the body and the body wouldn't process them. They were wrong on all three counts."

    Is the article newsworthy and was it written by a credible source? "The study is published today (Nov. 8, 2010) in the journal "Environmental Health Perspectives," published by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

    The chemical apparently stays in your body for prolonged amounts of time, so it accumulates over time. How much is bad for you? That's where the on-going research comes in. - 11/27/2010   1:16:25 PM
  • 22
    I agree with some of the other posts in that more information would have been useful. It is enough to peek my interest & cause me to research more about this though. Very rarely visit fast food places but sometimes it happens so it is good to know this. - 11/27/2010   12:47:28 PM
  • 21
    I won't even USE teflon! The studies aren't great re: any non-stick pans, so I steer clear of them. - 11/27/2010   12:38:21 PM
  • 20
    The article as written is questionable because a lot of information is left out. Here are some additional questions for which I'd like to see some answers: where else are we being exposed to PFOA? How much of it is in our bodies? How much of it does it take to cause adverse side affects? How long does it take to get out of our system? The fact that this information is not in the article is what causes me to question the purpose for writing it in the first place. - 11/27/2010   12:11:36 PM
  • 19
    Does this study actually change how I intend to eat? No. I already wouldn't touch fast food with a 10 foot pole. The last time I was in a McDonalds was simply to use the bathroom, and even then just being in the place repulsed me (and that was my very first job as a teenager!) I don't use Teflon pans. I very rarely microwave my food (especially in plastic containers), and I try to keep packaging out of my life for various reasons. I think the simplest and most natural state that our food can be in is the best, and studies like this just give us more reasons to shift away from processed, prepackaged foods - for our health, and for the environment.
    If I were someone who was relying heavily on fast food, microwaveable meals, etc - and I was actually concerned about my health and looking for ways to improve it - then I would definitely be concerned. - 11/27/2010   11:05:50 AM
  • 18
    I first learned about all of the garbage leaching its way into our food from my uncle who works with styrofoam (I know its bad in the first place). They basically weigh a styrofoam cup, then pour hot liquid into it, then empty it and weigh it again... drumroll... the cup is lighter. That means the styrofoam gets into the hot coffee in your morning cup of joe. I was disgusted, but then he also pointed out there are "acceptible limits" for animal feces in canned foods too. Gross, but true. I try to avoid styrofoam because it's so bad for the environment anyway, but this was just another reason to keep a travel mug in the car when I am on the go... - 11/27/2010   10:55:47 AM
    No I don't bother reading them. Food for the most part is common sense. If you can't pronounce the ingredients you probably shouldn't be eating it. - 11/27/2010   9:24:11 AM
  • 16
    I agree, more information is needed. - 11/27/2010   9:00:15 AM
  • 15
    It bothers me more that my husband uses metal in the teflon pans when he cooks & he scratches the bottoms. I have plastic ones, but he won't use them. I buy expensive cookware and he doesn't think the teflon is an issue. I do, but that doesn't matter. I do think these things are important. - 11/27/2010   1:19:08 AM
  • 14
    Interesting article... and great points FIERYSPARKED in your comments. I think people often don't balance the risks and consequences. And I like Jen's comment in the article that awareness gives you the freedom to make a choice. I would have to agree that with the limited amount of wrappers I touch, this isn't at the top of my list to worry about. Now, if they start a SparkPoints tracker for this... well, that's another story! I'll have to wait and see :)

    Thanks for the article! - 11/27/2010   12:55:06 AM
  • 13
    Thanks for the great information. - 11/27/2010   12:09:05 AM
  • 12
    The study dont say how much of it is bad for us ,or how long the food has to be wrapped in the paper to get it on the food. Most of the time people eat the food before its even left in wrapper very long .So it seems to me it would take a very long time for us to even get enough to hurt us. So thou I dont eat at fast food places but a few times .If I did I would not worry over it,just as I dont worry over most studies I have read. - 11/26/2010   1:54:15 PM
  • 11
    I think there are much worse things that we ingest daily with the fresh produce we buy at our grocery stores. Just think, if they banned everything that wasn't good for us, there wouldn't be any overweight people in this world. - 11/26/2010   11:36:32 AM
  • 10
    Well I didn't know about these additives... but right now have fast food about 4 times a year which is up 100% from last year, I don't think I will worry too much right now. - 11/26/2010   11:25:33 AM
  • 9
    Fasinating...food for thought....after eating this stuff for over 50 years, God only know just how much of this is perking inside me.... - 11/26/2010   11:14:30 AM
  • 8
    Now, see, I was figuring the article was about how all the fast food wrappers end up in land fills, take forever to decompose, and just add to our pollution............... - 11/26/2010   10:26:29 AM
  • 7
    Just seems like it's another study to drive paranoia. Honestly, there is one of these studies for everything (wasn't there one about reusable grocery bags recently?), and while I appreciate the need to make healthy/safe decisions for me and my family, you have to draw the line somewhere. We can't live in a bubble and avoid everything which *might* harm us. We can't worry about every little thing we get exposed to or put in our bodies - if we do that, we may as well just give up on living our lives. - 11/26/2010   10:10:29 AM
  • 6
    FYI..It is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). I used to work there in the Division of Toxicology. It is associated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). - 11/26/2010   8:08:01 AM
  • 5
    I don't eat much fast food, but seriously folks... its raising a bunch of fuss over nada! We can't find much today that isn't going to kill you in one way or another. Living my life in fear that maybe a fast food wrapper is going to kill me is just silly to me. And I risked my life 1000x more getting in the car and driving over to the place in the first place. Sure, if I ate it daily, I might be concerned... but at once a month or less... I'm not stressing out over this one! - 11/26/2010   7:47:06 AM
  • 4
    "Personally, I like to know if packaging could be affecting the food Iím about to eat. Then I can decide if itís worth the risk or not."

    Problem is you wouldn't get to decide -- if it bad for you the government would ban it. - 11/26/2010   7:42:08 AM
  • 3
    I'm glad to know the facts. Then, as you write, I can decide if it's worth the risk or not. Thank you. - 11/26/2010   7:16:38 AM
  • 2
    I don't pay much attention to things like that. I have a mom who thinks if you walk on the floor barefoot that you will get sick because its dirty. I don't need more paranoid people trying to tell me what's bad for me. - 11/26/2010   7:03:45 AM
    EVERYTHING is bad for you now a days. Whether or not I will adhere to a study's recommendation depends on the severity of the outcome and how often I practice the habits they are suggesting to avoid. If I was eating burgers 3 x per day...I would probably be more careful. But, I eat them more like once a month...and they're not in the wrapper long...trust me.

    And I would need to know more about the study. "exposed the rats to the chemical.." is a little broad. How did they expose them? In what quanity and for how long? etc. Touching the wrapper for 30 seconds a month isn't going to hurt me as much as the rats who were injected or slept in a bed of the wrappers for an extended period of time. - 11/26/2010   7:01:36 AM

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