By now, most of us have heard of bisphenol-A, otherwise known as BPA. This common chemical compound found in hard plastics and in the linings of food and drink cans has been under a great deal of scrutiny over the past decade due to its link to several serious health problems. The list is actually quite extensive and alarming, and includes erectile dysfunction, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, problems with brain function and memory, breast cancer and asthma.
And as if this chemical could not get any more dangerous, new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that long-term exposure to BPA in children can greatly increase the risk of one of the biggest epidemics we’re facing as a nation—obesity.
It’s no secret that children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of BPA. This is why the Food and Drug Administration recently banned its use in the production of plastic baby bottles and toddler cups. But, even so, BPA exposure is nearly impossible to completely avoid. In fact, 92.6 percent of people ages six and over have detectable levels in their urine!
The Obesity Link
In their study, researchers examined the link between body mass index and BPA concentrations in the urine of 2,838 children aged six to 19 years.
They divided the results into four groups (quartiles). After taking into account various factors such as race, age, caloric intake and television watching, researchers discovered that the first quartile—the children with the lowest urinary output of BPA—also had the lowest incidence of obesity (10.3 percent). Those in the second and third quartiles had a 20.1 percent and 19 percent rate of obesity, respectively. The fourth quartile, which included the children with the highest levels of BPA in their urine, had a 22.3 percent rate of obesity.
To put this in perspective, the kids in the third quartile had twice the odds for obesity, and those in the fourth quartile had 2.6 times higher odds for obesity, as compared to the kids in the first quartile.
After further analysis, researchers found this association to be most significant in white children and adolescents.
Reducing Your Exposure to BPA
Since BPA is so widespread, it’s close to impossible to avoid it completely. It may have been banned in baby products, but it still exists in many other plastic products and in the linings of canned goods and aluminum soda cans. Even so, there are a few steps you can take to limit your exposure to this harmful chemical:
- Choose BPA-free or non-plastic alternatives. When buying plastic products such as reusable water bottles and storage containers, make sure the product is labeled BPA-free. Or, better yet, opt for glass food storage containers, and stainless steel water bottles. (One caveat though—stainless steel water bottles sometimes contain plastic liners, so be sure the bottle you choose does not.)
- Avoid #7 plastics. Polycarbonate plastics with the #7 recycling code often contain BPA. The recycling codes with the numbers 1, 2 and 4 are your safest options if you do use plastic products.
- Don’t heat plastic in the microwave. Doing so could cause chemicals to leach into foods or beverages. Place your food on a plate or in a ceramic or glass bowl prior to heating.
- Avoid or limit your consumption of canned food and beverages. The BPA that lines these containers often leaches into the food. If you do eat canned food, you should rinse the contents, if possible, prior to eating it to lessen the amount of BPA you ingest. Probably most disturbing is that ready-to-feed liquid infant formula that gets housed in metal cans appears to have high concentrations of BPA. If you use infant formula, choose a powdered variety that comes in #1 or #2 plastic containers. If you do need to use liquid formula, find types sold in glass or #1/#2 plastic containers.