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BPA linked to obesity in young girls
June 12th, 2013
05:05 PM ET

BPA linked to obesity in young girls

Poor diet and lack of exercise might not be the only factors contributing to the obesity epidemic. A new study suggests the environment may also play a role.

“Eating too much and exercising too little are important factors,” said Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California. “But they cannot explain the steep increase in the obesity rate the last three decades. We haven’t really changed our eating habits and exercise that much.”

The environmental culprit, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, may be bisphenol-a, a chemical commonly found in plastic and cans.

Li and colleagues studied 1,326 school-age children in Shanghai, China, and measured BPA levels in their urine. In girls ages 9 to 12, higher BPA urine levels were associated with a doubled risk of obesity. And as BPA urine levels increased, so did the girls’ obesity risk - measured using their weight in reference to weight distribution in the population.

But strikingly, only girls in this age group were affected, the research showed. Neither girls outside of the 9-12 age range nor boys experienced a risk of being overweight or obese, even with high levels of BPA in their urine.

“Girls seem to be more sensitive to environmental impact, and we don’t know exactly why,” said Li, the lead study author.

Researchers do know BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical. It enters the body and mimics estrogen, the main hormone involved in female development.

When BPA acts like estrogen in young girls, it may accelerate the onset of puberty and cause weight gain – thus earning its “endocrine-disrupting” title.

“It is biologically plausible that BPA interferes with your normal hormone process - then your body gets screwed up,” said Li.

Another study conducted last year among children and adolescents in the United States showed a similar association between obesity and BPA.

“No previous study had examined exposure to BPA with obesity outside of the U.S.,” said Dr. Leo Trasande, the author of the U.S. study, who was not involved with the current study. “This study of Shanghai school-age children supports the notion that BPA exposure may contribute to obesity.”

BPA is a prime suspect on the growing list of what scientists call “environmental obesogens,” chemicals found in the environment that may cause obesity.

And BPA is nearly unavoidable in our everyday lives: it lines the inside of food cans and some plastic containers, entering the body through ingestion.

According to the CDC, nearly everyone in the United States over age 6 has BPA traceable in their urine.

BPA is associated with a variety of other health problems besides obesity. Past studies have tied BPA with low birth weight, asthma, and sexual dysfunction in men.

The Food and Drug Administration last year amended the food additive regulations to no longer allow BPA in the plastic used to make baby bottles and sippy cups.

"FDA’s current safety review supports the safety of BPA for use in the manufacture of food contact articles as authorized in the food additive regulations," said agency spokeswoman Shelly Burgess. "While evidence from some (previous) studies have raised questions as to whether BPA may be associated with a variety of health effects, there remain serious questions about these studies, particularly as they relate to humans and the public health impact of BPA."

Li said he hopes this study brings attention to the potential health effects of BPA, and that it spurs action from the FDA.

“It took 50 years from epidemiological research until finally the surgeon general said smoking is bad,” said Li. “During that time you can’t imagine how many unnecessary deaths there were.”

Evidence solidifying BPA’s link to obesity is still building, but Trasande and Li say the latest study should at the very least establish BPA as a major health concern for child obesity.


soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. Rob

    No one wants to take personal responsibility for sitting on their butts and shoving sugar and fat into their pie-holes. Wake up, grow up, take some personal responsibility! Plastics didn't make 63% of Americans either overweight or obese..... get real!

    June 12, 2013 at 18:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kebabs30

      our eating habits havent changesd, but our drinking habits have. What you eat is more important then what you drink, & new horrible ways to molest sugar are introduced to the foodchain everyday + birth control is dehydrating & also causes weight gain.

      June 12, 2013 at 19:45 | Report abuse |
    • John

      haha, I you're right, I think what George Carlin said about the American weight problem best sums it up, " Forget the Bald Eagle, you know what the to national emblem of this country ought to be a big bowl macaroni and cheese...Americans Lumbering through the malls like a fleet of interstate buses". We need to change, lets all go for a walk and put the plates down!

      June 12, 2013 at 21:30 | Report abuse |
    • Melissa

      “Eating too much and exercising too little are important factors,” “But they cannot explain the steep increase in the obesity rate the last three decades."

      UH, yes, that explains it EXACTLY. If you're eating too many calories, you will get bigger. This isn't rocket science. People are eating and drinking crap. More crap food comes out all the time.

      June 13, 2013 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
  2. Get Realist

    Did this study take into account that people whole eat large amounts of processed foods are more likely to be overweight? Processed foods are stored in cans, plastics, etc. Couldn't this explain the higher levels of BPA found in their urine? This study reeks of bad science.

    Also, this quote:
    “Eating too much and exercising too little are important factors, but they cannot explain the steep increase in the obesity rate the last three decades. We haven’t really changed our eating habits and exercise that much.”

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? Is this a joke?

    June 12, 2013 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • whalester

      Did you read either of the studies? I guess not since one of the primary conclusions was that since this interaction was that because there was not significant correlation between other environmental chemicals that these people frequently encountered and obesity, that the interaction seemed to be specific to BPA. I think you've raised an important question, but it was already addressed.

      It's not bad science just because you didn't read it.

      June 12, 2013 at 19:27 | Report abuse |
    • mary Eddy

      I grew up in a large family and the boys were thin and over a longer period of time did they develop A weight problem. My sister and I developed obesity early during adolescents.During the sixties this chemical started to become rampant. THIS IS A INTERESTING STUDY AND IS ANOTHER LIKELY CONTRIBUTOR TO THIS PROBLEM.

      June 12, 2013 at 21:44 | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      Thirty years ago I was running around playing ball, riding a bike and had a home cooked meal most of the time! Now kids can play any sport sitting on their butt in front of a HD TV screen. Don't need to ride a bike cause their friends are a "Skype" away and a home cooked meal means a Pizza heated in an oven.

      June 14, 2013 at 17:49 | Report abuse |
  3. Thin

    Nothing tastes as good as thin looks (: Fatties are disgusting. Poo!

    June 12, 2013 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JGN

      Sorry for your ignorance. i hope you get that anorexia under control someday.

      June 12, 2013 at 23:35 | Report abuse |
    • Winter

      Except for french fries and raspberry sorbet.

      June 26, 2013 at 15:07 | Report abuse |
    • Winter

      Oh, and also not needing everyone's approval.

      June 26, 2013 at 15:08 | Report abuse |
  4. Crystal

    Well, correlation does not mean causation.

    June 12, 2013 at 20:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. cali girl

    it is all high fructose corn syrup. Look at every label in the supermarket bread, jams, syrup, cereal, drinks, things that need no sugar for anything in it will have HFCS.

    June 12, 2013 at 22:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ewwww

      Well, Californians moved out into other states in record numbers during this period. By your tin-hat reasoning, exposing the rest of the country to the empty, jaded, restless, smug Cali lifestyle could have caused the obesity epidemic.

      June 13, 2013 at 11:16 | Report abuse |
  6. JGN

    Hey Rob, sorry for your anger but there actually ARE traceable reasons why Americans are so obese, and SOME of those reasons are environmental, not just sitting on their asses and shoving sugar into their pie holes; gosh what a kind and intelligent way you have with words.
    Wake up and smell the chemical agents in our food supply, which most other developed nations do NOT have.

    June 12, 2013 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dennis

      There is a researcher in Richmond who did a study of sailors decades ago and found that if young sailors had been exposed to a certain virus, they were 80% more likely to be overweight by the time they left the service. There was a similar study about a virus found in children which had similar results. Can we at least open our minds to the idea that there are more causes than we think, and no, we did not suddenly lose all willpower and control.

      June 17, 2013 at 13:52 | Report abuse |
  7. patriciaange

    Reblogged this on Sex and Relationships.

    June 13, 2013 at 04:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Conrad Shull

    File this one under: "Trolling for Trendy Research Dollars". And, a side note, there is one demographic of Americans who love fast food, sugary drinks, etc. and lots of it and are rarely overweight – skaters.

    June 13, 2013 at 07:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Johnny

    I'm curious, do the heavier girls have higher BPA levels because they are consuming food products that come in high BPA packaging such as soft drinks, and highly processed canned foods? Is it really the BPA thats causing the problem or is it the fact that these children are consuming high calorie garbage? While undoubtedly chemicals in the environment impact human health, I think people still need to take a little (ok a lot of) responsibility in what they feed themselves and their families. BPA or not, if you eat high calorie junk food and sit on your butt, you will be fat...Period.

    June 14, 2013 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. elle

    I think its a combination of things. But plastic is everywhere-bpa or not. We sit on plastic chairs in school, sit on plastic seating in cars and buses. Carpet is plastic. Could it be in clothes? And just try buying food free of bpa. Its in cans, in plastic wrapping around salads and meats... But food choices HAVE changed. How many kids get to go home for lunch when at school? It used to be the norm-also, to walk to school, even in elementary school we walked 25 minutes 4 times a day. I pity todays kids, I really do. PS. Im typing on a plastic phone keypad. Have those ever been tested for bpa?

    June 17, 2013 at 01:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cheryl

      BPA is found on store receipts too. scary.

      June 22, 2013 at 23:29 | Report abuse |
  11. jim

    So the culprit is "plastic and cans," and not the sugary, high-carb drinks that are consumed from those plastics and cans?

    Sheesh, ever hear of correlation?

    June 17, 2013 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cheryl

      there are healthy things found in cans...like vegetables, tomato sauce, soup. Not necessarily all high sugar, high-fat.

      June 22, 2013 at 23:31 | Report abuse |
  12. Ethic's Board

    "But strikingly, only girls in this age group were affected, the research showed. Neither girls outside of the 9-12 age range nor boys experienced a risk of being overweight or obese, even with high levels of BPA in their urine."

    Translation: We got a bunch of data points that looked like nothing, and then we sent it to a statistician and boom, we got a statistically significant correlation. So watch out girls in Shanghai between 9 and 12 years old...

    June 19, 2013 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
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    June 19, 2013 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. cheryl

    Too bad there aren't more Amish people willing to be tested. I bet they maintain one of the least processed food diets of any culture. That would be a good comparison.

    June 22, 2013 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Mike

    Wow. People screaming bad science in comments while denying any possibility that chemical factors that affect metabolism could lead to severe weight gain. Those same ignorant freaks probably celebrate every product that makes you lose weight, such as cocaine and other metabolism boosting substances that are sold on the diet market, that are actually legal.

    You people can't have it both ways. If a chemical can make you lose weight, a chemical can make you gain weight. It's called LOGIC. Try having a little some time.

    June 23, 2013 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. kk2

    just remember folks-you are the ones buying the food for your kiddos and putting it in your house. if you don't place it in the house, the problems drastically improve! water and fruit are both great alternatives to soda and cupcakes!

    July 31, 2013 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. DW

    I believe BPA is definitely an area of research that should be focused on more extensively in the future. Not only has BPA now been linked to obesity, but it has also been linked to risks of cancer in the past. According to Natural Standard database, BPA may also be linked to asthma. BPA is most often found in water bottles and food containers. When purchasing these things, people can search on the bottles and containers to note if they are BPA-free.

    October 4, 2013 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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