KIDS
June 27, 2013

A Big Fat BPA Problem

The plastic additive BPA disrupts hormones and fertility. Now it’s linked to obesity in teenaged girls.

The notorious endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) has been linked to a growing array of health problems. Because of its effects on the body's hormones, BPA may reduce fertility in women and cause reproductive tissue damage in boys.

The chemical also may be contributing to obesity, according to a new study showing that the higher the BPA level in teenage girls, the higher their likelihood for being obese. Earlier research hinted at the connection between BPA and obesity in young people, but this new study confirms that adolescence seems to be a particularly sensitive period for BPA exposure.

Exposure to BPA in the human population may be contributing to the worldwide obesity epidemic.

In the study, researchers measured BPA levels in the urine of over 1,300 boys and girls aged 4-12 in Shanghai. They also used questionnaires to determine lifestyle factors, including those that might contribute to obesity risk, like nutrition, mental health, and physical activity.

Girls between the ages of nine and 12 who had higher than average BPA levels in their urine had double the risk of being obese (having a body weight in the top 10th percentile). The results were even more dramatic for those with the very highest levels: these girls had five times the risk of having a body weight in the top 10th percentile. Similar results were not found in boys.

“Girls in the midst of puberty may be more sensitive to the impacts of BPA on their energy balance and fat metabolism, ” said study author De-Kun Li in a statement. This is because at puberty, the body is responding to increased levels of the sex hormones, and BPA is known to mimic the action of estrogen. Li added that globally, “exposure to BPA in the human population may be contributing to the worldwide obesity epidemic. ”

The FDA has banned BPA from bottles, sippy cups, and other baby and toddler food containers, but has refused to ban it in adult products, such as cans of soup, even though its presence in those products raises BPA levels in the urine of adults. And given the mounting research suggesting that BPA indeed affects the health of both adolescents and adults, it may be time to revisit that question.

The study is published in the journal, PLOS ONE.

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