The obesity epidemic in men could be fuelled by the female sex hormone oestrogen, scientists claim.

Experts believe the hormone could also be causing the well-documented drop in sperm count among Western men.

They said men in affluent countries are becoming ‘feminised’, as they come into contact with products contain the female sex hormone.

Compounds found in some plastic items, including drainpipes, and soy food products can mimic the effects of oestrogen, scientists said.

Secreted by the ovaries in pre-menstrual women, oestrogen is known to cause weight gain, inhibiting the thyroid gland and affecting other areas of the brain.

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