SUM study: Young people know too little enough about microplastics in their diets

Credit: Adobe Stock
Credit: Adobe Stock

Microplastics, i.e. microscopic plastic particles present in the environment, enter our bodies with food and can accumulate in the organs. Young people are aware of the threat, but their knowledge is incomplete and inaccurate, say scientists from the Medical University of Silesia.

Microplastics are plastic granules with a diameter below 5 mm, originating from the breakdown of plastics. They are classified as anthropogenic environmental pollutants. Their presence is most often confirmed in the seas and oceans, hence the misconception that possible threats to humans are associated only with eating fish and seafood.

Scientists from the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice decided to test the knowledge and awareness of the presence of microplastics in water and food in a group of several hundred students. Respondents were also asked about the possible health consequences of microplastics in the human body.

'The aim of the study was to examine the current knowledge and awareness of young consumers concerning the sources of origin, scale of exposure and potential health effects resulting from the presence of microplastics in water and food, in particular its toxic effects on internal organs, metabolic processes and reproductive functions', explains Dr. Klaudia Oleksiuk from the Department of Epidemiology, Faculty of Health Sciences of the Medical University of Silesia.

The study results show that young people know what microplastics are and where they come from in the environment. The vast majority of respondents also know about the potential presence of microplastics in water, but their awareness of microplastic contamination of other elements of the environment (soil, air and living organisms) is much lower.

A large part of young consumers knows that microplastics can be found in food products, but they most often named marine and freshwater fish and seafood as products exposed to contamination. 'Meanwhile, studies conducted so far have shown the presence of microplastic particles in many different food products, not only in foods of marine origin. Microplastics are present in salt, sugar, vegetables and even in water', remind representatives of the Medical University of Silesia.

After entering the human body, microplastics can accumulate in internal organs, the majority of surveyed students confirmed. Among the related potential health effects, they most often mentioned cancer, gastrointestinal diseases, inflammation and thyroid diseases. Few people pointed to disorders of the reproductive system, while microplastics have been proven to have a negative impact on fertility. Not everyone knew that microplastics were discovered not only on our hair, but also in our blood.

The results of the study confirm that people studying science and natural sciences, as well as medical and health sciences, have greater knowledge about the sources of exposure to microplastics through food and the resulting negative health consequences. Statistically, women and students living in large cities know more about it.

Scientists have no doubt that the main source of human exposure to microplastics is the diet - plastic particles enter the body primarily through food. According to experts from the Medical University of Silesia, further research is needed both on consumer awareness in this area, as well to expand knowledge about the toxicity of microplastics and their impact on our health. (PAP)

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