A recent study has investigated whether there is a link between BPA substitutes and childhood and adolescent obesity.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a commonly used chemical in the production of plastic food containers, metal food can linings, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. Because of the widespread use of BPA, 93% of Americans in 2003-2004 age six and up had traces of BPA in their urine. BPA is known to cause disruption to the endocrine system, and initiatives to reduce or eliminate its use in food containers were put in place.
BPA was replaced with BPA substitutes – other chemicals that are structurally similar, such as bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF). However, there is a concern that these BPA substitutes are too much like BPA. As an endocrine disruptor, BPA is known to cause obesity, and scientists are concerned that BPS and BPF may also follow this trend. Since childhood and adolescence are critical development periods, the effects of BPA and similar chemicals are most harmful to children and adolescents.
Scientists from the NYU School of Medicine in New York, N.Y. performed a study that was recently published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society that examined the relationship between BPA, BPS, and BPF and the weight of children six to nineteen years of age.
The researchers used data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) from the period of 2013-2016. Data from 1,831 children were reviewed. Data included demographics, exposure to tobacco smoke, time spent watching TV, caloric intake, and body mass index (BMI). Researchers classified the weight data into those that were obese, severely obese, had abdominal obesity, or were overweight or higher. The concentration of BPA, BPS, and BPF was measured in the children’s urine.
The results indicated that BPA substitutes were linked to childhood and adolescent obesity. The researchers determined that there was an association between concentrations of BPS and increased childhood obesity and severe obesity. Higher concentrations of BPS and BPF were associated with increased abdominal obesity. Children with higher levels of BPF were more likely to be overweight, but the researchers did not find a relationship between BPA and BMI.
Researchers urge caution when interpreting these results because BPS and BPF are so quickly processed by the body. This makes measuring long-term exposure difficult when using urine samples. Also, because weight gain and obesity occur over a longer period of time, it is not always possible to draw a direct relationship between concentrations of BPA, BPS, and BPF to childhood BMI.
The link between BPA and childhood obesity may not have been seen because of the initiatives to reduce or remove it from food packaging. Since the use of BPS has increased as a BPA replacement, this may be why the relationship between it and childhood obesity has increased.
In a press release, study author Melanie Jacobsen, Ph.D., M.P.H. said, “This research is significant because exposure to these chemicals is very common in the United States. BPS and BPF use is growing because manufacturers are replacing BPA with these chemicals, so that is contributing to the frequency of exposure. Although diet and exercise are still understood to the main drivers of obesity, this research suggests that common chemical exposures may also play a role, specifically among children.”
In light of this research, parents should work to ensure BPA and BPA substitutes such as BPS and BPF-free containers are used for their children’s food. Ensuring their children eat a healthy, balanced diet and get at least sixty minutes of physical exercise a day will keep their weight in a healthy range.
Written by Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.
- Jacobson M, Woodward M, Bao W, Liu B, Trasande L. Urinary bisphenols and obesity prevalence among US children and adolescents. J Endocr Soc. 2019. doi:10.1210/js.2019-00201
- CLARITY-BPA Program. Ntp.niehs.nih.gov. https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/results/areas/bpa/index.html. Published 2019. Accessed July 26, 2019.
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