Phthalates are man-made chemicals thought to interfere with the natural hormones that are crucial to overall health.

London - Chemicals in mobile phones, toys and sunglasses may be fuelling the obesity epidemic, a report warns.

The chemicals – which are unavoidable in the modern world – may also help trigger diabetes, the review of hundreds of individual pieces of research concluded.

Some are found in mobile phone cases and tin cans, others in shampoos and shower curtains.

The report’s authors called for urgent action to reduce exposure – particularly among pregnant women and those planning to start a family.

Some experts described the report as “alarming”, but others said the key to good health is in what we eat and drink.

The warning comes from a report commissioned by campaign group CHEM Trust.

It was put together by Spanish and South Korean researchers after they sifted through more than 240 studies on obesity, pollution and type 2 or adult-onset diabetes.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that the study assessed the impact of chemicals including the now banned PCBs, the plastic-softeners phthalates, and the plastic-hardener Bisphenol A, or BPA, a common substance in food packaging and plastic bottles.

They concluded that the evidence that chemicals can lead to weight gain in animals is “compelling”.

Proof in people is more limited but this is partly because of the ethical and practical difficulties of testing the theory on humans.

They added that the link between environmental chemicals and diabetes in people was first made more than 15 years ago and that the volume and strength of evidence has been “particularly persuasive” since 2006.

Many of the chemicals of concern mimic or interfere with the effect of hormones, leading to them being described as ‘gender-bending’.

Some of these hormones control appetite, while others affect the storage of fat.

Dr Tim Lobstein, of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, said: “People trying to lose weight will be undermined by these chemicals which they cannot see, cannot taste and do not know how to avoid.

“This alarming report highlights the need for government action,” he added. - Daily Mail