"Phthalates are a class of synthetic chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, meaning they affect hormones in the body", said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, an associate professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Washington and chairwoman of the Environmental Protection Agency's Children Health Protection Advisory Committee, who was not involved in the study.
Researchers at George Washington University in the United States analyzed medical data from the 10,253 participants in the US National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) collected between 2005 and 2014.
The new study's researchers suggested further research is needed to determine how phthalates can be removed from the food supply, Newsweek reported.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health and the Milken Institute School of Public Health compared levels of phthalates of people who reported eating out alot to those who preferred to eat at home. People who reported consuming more restaurant, fast food and cafeteria meals had phthalate levels that were almost 35% higher than people who reported eating food mostly purchased at the grocery store, according to the study.
The National Restaurant Association would not comment on the study or the broader issue of phthalates leaching into food.
This association was consistent across all ages, genders and ethnicities, but it was strongest among teenagers who ate out: They had phthalate levels 55% higher than those who ate at home.
The new study looked more broadly at dining out-not just at fast-food outlets-and found that it was significantly associated with increased exposure to phthalates.
The team used an innovative method of assessing real-world exposures to multiple phthalates, called cumulative phthalate exposure, which takes into account evidence that some phthalates are more toxic than others. "And this study suggests it may not have as many harmful phthalates as a restaurant meal", Zota concluded.
Earlier studies have also revealed food products that contain phthalates.
Zota and colleagues said that the findings raise concerns since two-thirds of the people in the United States consume some food outside the home every day.
The onus on reducing exposure to phthalates is on policymakers rather than the public, suggested Zota.
"Preparing food at home may represent a win-win for consumers", Zota said, adding that consuming home-cooked meals can reduce intake of unhealthy fats, salt, and sugar. "Eating occasional processed foods is unlikely to do long-term harm, but we should strive and aim to eat home-cooked and less processed food more often".