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Packard Children’s physicians discuss new research linking higher urine BPA levels and child obesity

New findings published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association show that children and teens with higher urinary levels of the plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA) are more likely to be obese. The study, according to its authors at New York University, is "the first report of an association of an environmental chemical exposure with childhood obesity in a nationally representative sample."

The research (subscription required) examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) on 2,838 children and teens aged 6 to 19. The children were stratified into four groups based on their level of urinary BPA. Only 10 percent of children and teens with the lowest BPA levels were obese; in contrast, among those with the highest BPA levels, 22 percent were obese.

The study results, coming as they do after years of scientific reports on BPA's hormone-like effects and widespread distribution in our food supply, are likely to make parents even more worried about their children's BPA exposure, and what, if anything, they should do to reduce it.

To get some perspective on the new research, I contacted two general pediatricians from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. Here are some interesting excerpts from their e-mails about how people should interpret the findings.

Lawrence Hammer, MD, said, "In my opinion, such a study provides an interesting finding that cannot be used to suggest causality.  The next steps would involve studies that are designed to establish a direct relationship between actual BPA intake and subsequent elevated body mass index.  This current study might be considered 'hypothesis generating'."

But Hammer added that although further research is needed to determine whether BPA does indeed cause obesity, what was known about BPA before this study was published should already have been enough to motivate parents to reduce their children's BPA exposure.

Elizabeth Shepard, MD, noted that while this is the first research to show an association between BPA exposure and obesity in children, a study published last year found a similar link in adults.

And Shepard had plenty of practical advice for parents. She said:

I think that both governmental action and individual efforts are needed to reduce BPA exposure.  In terms of advice to parents on how to reduce BPA exposure in kids, I would recommend the following:

  1. For babies on formula, do not use canned liquid concentrate or ready-to-feed infant formula for long-term feeding.  Powdered formula is safer since it does not leach BPA from the linings of the cans.
  2. Buy BPA-free baby bottles and feeding cups or utensils (now widely available in California and many other states).
  3. Do not poor hot food or liquids into plastic containers, do not microwave plastic containers or put them in the dishwasher, and discard any plastic containers with scratches.
  4. Minimize intake of canned foods, especially acidic foods such as tomatoes.  Frozen foods are a good alternative if parents do not have access to or cannot afford fresh foods.
  5. Stop drinking soda, even diet soda, since soda cans have BPA!  Drinking regular soda out of cans is a double whammy since it increases BPA exposure and contributes many excess calories to the diet!"

Previously: Study links dental fillings containing bisphenol A with slight psychological changes in children, California bans BPA in baby bottles and cups and Cutting out canned, packaged foods can reduce exposure to BPA
Photo by jrsnchzhrs

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