Fast Food Restaurants
A new study found eating out increases levels of phthalates in the body. Pictured are a number of restaurant signs in Los Angeles. David McNew/Getty Images

Eating out at restaurants and fast food chains may be convenient but a new study suggests it comes with risks, including increased exposure to a potentially harmful chemical called phthalates.

Researchers looked at data collected between 2005 and 2014 as part of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and discovered that subjects who had recently eaten food from a fast food restaurant had levels of phthalates 35 percent higher than those who ate at home.

In total, the scientists examined the results of 10,253 participants. Sixty-one percent of the group replied in the survey that they had eaten out within the previous 24 hours, and the majority of those respondents showed an increased level of phthalate biomarkers when their urine was tested.

The results showed a strong association between phthalate exposure and dining out for all groups regardless of age or gender, but the strongest correlation was seen in young people, according to the researchers. Young children who frequently ate at fast food restaurants reported phthalates levels 55 percent higher than those who ate at home.

“Pregnant women, children and teens are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals, so it’s important to find ways to limit their exposures,” said Dr. Julia Varshavsky, a postdoctoral scholar at University of California at Berkeley and the lead author of the research paper, according to the Guardian .

Phthalates is a harmful chemical used to increase the flexibility and durability of plastic. It is often used as a binding agent in food packaging and can also be found in other products like adhesives, soaps and flooring products. The chemical has been banned from being used in children’s products in the United States because of potential harms it can cause.

When exposed to the human body, it can disrupt hormones and cause a number of health issues. It has been linked to asthma, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and fertility issues.

“This study suggests food prepared at home is less likely to contain high levels of phthalates, chemicals linked to fertility problems, pregnancy complications and other health issues,” Dr. Ami Zota said. “Our findings suggest that dining out may be an important, and previously under-recognized, source of exposure to phthalates for the US population.”