Obesity is now a worldwide pandemic. The usual explanation given for the prevalence of obesity is that it results from consumption of a calorie dense diet coupled with physical inactivity. However, this model inadequately explains rising obesity in adults and in children over the past few decades, indicating that other factors must be important contributors. An Endocrine-Disrupting Chemical (EDC) is an exogenous chemical, or mixture that interferes with any aspect of hormone action. EDCs have become pervasive in our environment, allowing humans to be exposed daily through ingestion, inhalation, and direct dermal contact. Exposure to EDCs has been causally linked with obesity in model organisms and associated with obesity occurrence in humans. Obesogens are chemicals, including some EDCs that promote adipogenesis and obesity, in vivo, by a variety of mechanisms. The environmental obesogen model holds that exposure to obesogens elicits a predisposition to obesity and that such exposures may be an important yet overlooked factor in the obesity pandemic. Effects produced by EDCs and obesogen exposure may be passed to subsequent, unexposed generations. This “generational toxicology” is not currently factored into risk assessment by regulators but may be another important factor in the obesity pandemic as well as in the worldwide increases in the incidence of noncommunicable diseases that plague populations everywhere. This review addresses the current evidence on how obesogens affect body mass, discusses long-known chemicals that have been more recently identified as obesogens, and how the accumulated knowledge can help identify EDCs hazards.
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