Critics of the fast-food industry have long warned about the perils of our addiction to processed food. Big Macs and Whoppers might taste good, but put too many of them in your body and it will expand as Violet Beauregard’s did in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (although maybe not quite as fast). The evidence is decades in the making. The rise of processed food, after all, has coincided with an alarming growth in the size of our collective gut.

But there might be some new powerful ammunition for those who could do without the food the fast-food industry serves.

Researchers at George Washington University have linked fast-food consumption to the presence of potentially harmful chemicals, a connection they argue could have “great public health significance.” Specifically, the team found that people who eat fast food tend to have significantly higher levels of certain phthalates, which are commonly used in consumer products such as soap and makeup to make them less brittle but have been linked to a number of adverse health outcomes, including higher rates of infertility, especially among males.

The danger, the researchers believe, isn’t necessarily a result of the food itself, but rather the process by which the food is prepared. The findings were published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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