Man-made chemicals in everyday items such as paint, plastics and mattresses may be linked to the sharp rise in obesity and diabetes in western societies, researchers have warned.

Analysis of 240 scientific papers on obesity, pollution and type 2 diabetes suggests increasing exposure to chemicals, such as pesticides, paint additives, flame retardants, diesel and common substances in food packaging and plastic bottles, play an important role in the development of both conditions.

The chemicals enter the food chain and build up in the body where they mimic or interfere with the effect of hormones to encourage the storage of fat, alter appetite and slow the rate at which fat is burned, the researchers claim.

Co-author Professor Miquel Porta, from the School of Public health at the University of North Carolina, said: “The epidemics in obesity and diabetes are extremely worrying. The role of hormone disrupting chemicals in this must be addressed. The number of such chemicals that contaminate humans is considerable.”

“We must encourage new policies that help minimise human exposure to all relevant hormone disrupters, especially women planning pregnancy, as it appears to be the foetus developing in utero that is at greatest risk.

He 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.