We know that too many sodas contribute to obesity in children and teens, but could BPA – the controversial chemical known to leach from plastic bottles and aluminum cans – contribute to the obesity epidemic as well? A new study published in the September 19, 2012 edition of the Journal of American Medical Association says this may be the case.
Childhood obesity is a tragic epidemic in America, putting our children and teenagers at risk of developing serious adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Over the past 30 years, the childhood obesity rate in America has almost tripled.
Until now, much of the obesity blame has been placed on poor eating and exercise habits. This study now suggests the blame may extend to environmental and chemical factors – like BPA – as well.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical that has been present in many hard plastic bottles and metal-based food and beverage cans since the 1960s, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Specific applications of BPA include:
- Aluminum Cans – Residues from the cans protective lining can leach into commonly canned foods and beverages including soda, soup, pasta, fruit and canned vegetables. Tests have found that the canned pasta and soups actually contain the highest level of BPA.
- Certain Plastics – Plastic water bottles and food containers labeled with the recycling codes #3 and 7 are most at risk for leaching BPA, including the hard clear polycarbonates (PC).
- Metal Water Bottles – Some metal water bottles are lined with a plastic coating that contains BPA.
BPA and Obesity Study
Researchers at the NYU School of Medicine studied almost 3,000 children from the ages of six to 19, between 2003 to 2008, and found a significant association between the higher concentration of BPA in their urine and the greater likelihood of obesity. The likelihood of obesity was 2.6 times higher in the children with higher BPA levels. The study also found that white children and teens were the only group to have a significant association between BPA and obesity, suggesting that certain groups may be more susceptible to the effects of BPA.
The researchers were careful to point out that there are many reasons why children become overweight, including poor diets and physical inactivity.
Critics of the study, including the American Chemistry Council, disputed the results arguing fundamental limitations with the study that made it “incapable of establishing any meaningful connection between BPA and obesity.” They went on to state that “attempts to link our national obesity problem to minute exposures to chemicals found in common, everyday products are a distraction from the real efforts under way to address this important national health issue”.
Buyer Beware of BPA
The FDA is currently performing studies to clarify the uncertainties about the risks of BPA, including potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children.
Although the FDA recently banned BPA from baby bottles and children’s sippy cups because of specific BPA concerns with children, it has not applied the ban to other types of packaging – such as aluminum cans and polycarbonate water bottles – because it has not been definitively shown to cause harm to adults.
Unlike the USA, other countries aggressively restrict the levels of BPA in food contact products, including Japan, Canada and European countries. In fact, Japan requires all water bottles sold their to be product tested and certified from an authorized testing facility, to ensure that defined safety guidelines for toxins are met.
How to Reduce Exposure to BPA:
Here are some practical suggestions to reduce your exposure to BPA:
- Plastic bottles and containers have recycle codes on the bottom. Watch out for plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7. These may contain BPA.
- Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate is strong and durable, but over time it may break down from over use at high temperatures.
- Avoid using old and scratched plastic containers.
- Reduce your use of canned foods and beverages.
- Contact the product manufacturer to find out what steps they take to ensure the safety of their products.
While the science may not be 100% conclusive, do we really want to take the risk of exposure to a chemical that could impact our weight, brain, behavior and overall health? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.
- Association Between Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration and Obesity Prevalence in Children and Adolescents, Journal of American Medical Association
- Since You Asked: BPA, NIEHS.gov
- US Study Links the Chemical BPA to Obesity in Children, Reuters
- New study suggests relationship between BPA, obesity, Plastics.com
- BPA Toxic Plastic Chemicals in Canned Foods, EWG.org
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