In a letter to the founder of the National Buffalo Wing Festival, PETA recently requested that pregnant women be banned from participating due to findings published by the Study for Future Families: “Eating poultry during pregnancy may lead to smaller penis size in male infants.”
According to PETA’s Linday Rajt, this shrinkage allegedly results from a chemical compound found in the meat.
Woman’s Health Magazine, however, refuted the claim by explaining that the study didn’t evaluate chicken consumption, but rather how prenatal phthalate exposure affects boys reproductively in a variety of ways. Only one of which was penis size:
It is true that, according to the Study for Future Families’ research, boys born to moms with the highest levels of phthalate exposure (defined as those in the top 25th percentile) were more likely to have shorter penises than those born to moms with the lowest levels of phthalate exposure (those in the bottom 25th percentile).
Why? Phthalates may decrease the amount of testosterone a boy is exposed to in his mother’s womb, hindering his reproductive development. This has been linked to a host of issues, such as a higher likelihood of undescended testicles and a smaller anogenital distance (the distance between the anus and the genitals; this measure has been associated with feminization). In rodent studies, prenatal phthalate exposure in males has also been correlated with lower sperm counts later in life and even infertility.
You gain exposure to phthalates in lots of ways, such as when you use certain personal care products, when you eat out of plastic containers, and when you consume anything on the list of many, many foods that contain phthalates, says Shanna H. Swan, Ph.D., a professor in the department of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who conducted the research PETA cites. What’s more, chicken doesn’t even rank particularly high on the list of foods containing phthalates (spices are actually at the top of the list, according to one German study). “I think any link between eating buffalo wings–even by pregnant women–and the size of their son’s genitals is very tenuous,” says Swan.
On a personal note, my mother ate a tremendous amount of chicken wings while pregnant with me and I can assure all of you, PETA’s claim is absolutely false.