World — 18 September 2012

Children and adolescents who have high concentrations of a common household chemical in their urine have  significantly higher odds of being obese, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study adds to a long-running debate over  bisphenol (BPA), and whether it contributes to obesity and other health problems.

BPA is a colorless and odorless chemical widely used in food and beverage packaging, including many water and baby bottles. It’s been a controversial substance due to concerns over possible BPA leakage into foods and liquids. Over 92 percent of Americans 6 years and older having detectable BPA levels in their urine. Eleven states have already passed policies to restrict the use of BPA.

In a study of nearly 3,000 children and adolescents, researchers found that those with the highest levels of BPA in their urine were 2.6 times more likely to be obese than children with the lowest levels of the chemical.

Researchers found that obesity was not associated with exposure to other chemicals commonly used in consumer products, such as sunscreens and soaps.

“To our knowledge, this is the first report of an association of an environmental chemical exposure with childhood obesity in a nationally representative sample,” said lead author Leonardo Trasande, MD, of the NYU School of Medicine.

The researchers acknowledged that their study may be flawed, because obese children may drink more canned or bottled beverages, or eat more canned food, and thus have higher urinary BPA levels.

“It may be that sedentary children consume foods high in BPA. Obese children could also have higher urinary BPA concentrations because BPA is stored and released from adipose tissue. We cannot rule out these alternative explanations,” the study noted.

The American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, criticized the study’s methodology.

“Attempts to link our national obesity problem to minute exposures to chemicals found in common, everyday products are a distraction from the real efforts underway to address this important national health issue. Due to inherent, fundamental limitations in this study, it is incapable of establishing any meaningful connection between BPA and obesity.  In particular, the study measures BPA exposure only after obesity has developed, which provides no information on what caused obesity to develop,” said Steven Hentges, PhD, of the American Chemistry Council.

“It is also relevant to note that dozens of studies have monitored the body weight of laboratory animals exposed to BPA.  These studies found no consistent effect on body weight, indicating that BPA exposure is not likely to cause obesity,” Hentges said.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration rejected a request to ban BPA from food and beverage containers. The agency said it lacked scientific evidence to warrant a ban, but would continue to study the plastic hardening chemical, which has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cancer and other health problems.

“FDA scientists have also recently determined that exposure to BPA through foods for infants is much less than had been previously believed and that the trace amounts of the chemical that enter the body, whether it’s an adult or a child, are rapidly metabolized and eliminated,” the FDA said.

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Pat Anson, Editor

Pat is Editor in Chief of American News Report. He is a veteran journalist and a former correspondent and producer for HealthWeek (PBS), Nightly Business Report (PBS) and other nationally syndicated shows. Pat has won numerous journalism awards, including a Golden Mike award for investigative reporting.

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