Obesity is developing at an alarming rate even in developing countries. Maybe the global obesity epidemic has nothing to do with eating too much food. Research suggests the problem may be rooted in your food’s packaging.
A Kaiser Permanente study has found that girls between 9 and 12 years of age with higher-than-average levels of bisphenol-A (BPA) in their urine had DOUBLE the risk of being obese compared to girls with lower levels of BPA.
The study published in the journal PLOS ONE confirms findings from earlier animal studies that high BPA levels could increase the risk of overweight and obesity. Researchers looked at 1,326 male and female children in grades 4 to 12 at three Shanghai schools.
According to the Environmental Working Group, BPA is an industrial chemical used to make clear, rigid, shatter-resistant plastic used in food and drink containers like the epoxy coatings lining most food and beverage cans. Other BPA sources include PVC piping, plastic dinnerware, compact disks, toys, dental sealants, and medical devices. It’s found in all currency throughout the world as well as cash register receipts issued on thermal paper.
In the Shanghai study girls between 9 and 12 years old who had higher-than-average BPA in their urine (2 micrograms per liter or greater) had twice the risk of having a body weight in the top 10th percentile for girls of their age. Those with levels of more than 10 micrograms per liter had five times the risk of being obese.
Among the girls studied, 36% of those with a higher-than-average BPA were overweight or obese compared with 21% of those with a lower-than-average BPA.
How does BPA promote obesity?
BPA is a known endocrine disruptor with estrogenic properties. According to the researchers, children and adolescents ingest BPA through foods and liquids that have come into contact with BPA-containing materials. BPA leaches into foods and beverages from plastic food containers, jar lids, and the linings of metal cans.
The association between obesity and BPA levels was not found in boys. The researchers speculated that girls in the midst of puberty may be more sensitive to the impacts of BPA on their energy balance and fat metabolism.
The researchers called BPA a potential new environmental “obesogen,” a chemical compound that can disrupt the normal development and balance of fat metabolism and lead to obesity. They suggested that “worldwide exposure to BPA in the human population may be contributing to the worldwide obesity epidemic.”
The authors theorized that BPA could both accelerate girls’ pubertal development and weight gain during their pre-puberty years. They noted that exposure to BPA suppresses the release of adiponectin, a hormone that increases insulin sensitivity. BPA could lead to insulin resistance and increased susceptibility to obesity and metabolic syndromes. BPA has also been shown to affect the pancreas, thyroid hormone pathways, and brain functions.
Nine nations have banned or restricted BPA. In the U.S., 11 states have banned BPA. In 2012 the federal Food and Drug Administration barred BPA in baby bottles and children’s cups but it is still everywhere in the food supply. And it gets worse.
As consumers become educated about the dangers of BPA, manufacturers are substituting an “alphabet soup” of bisphenols for BPA. We’re just finding out “BPA-Free” products contain BP-AP, BPF, BPS, BPP, BPM and many others.
These other bisphenols are just as bad as BPA. Some are much worse. They stay in your body longer and cause more DNA damage.[i]
These bisphenols have soaked into our food supply. New York State Department of Health researchers found 75% of the foods they sampled contained an assortment of eight different bisphenols.[ii]
How to avoid exposure to BPA
It would be almost impossible to eliminate BPA entirely from your life. But here are a few ways to help minimize your exposure:
- Avoid canned foods unless it specifically says the can is BPA-free. Eden Foods has been proactive in eliminating BPA from its canned foods.
- Opt for food sold in glass jars or waxed cardboard cartons (known as Tetra Paks).
- Don’t use baby bottles, cups, dishes or food containers marked with “PC” (for polycarbonate) or recycling label #7.
- Don’t microwave food in plastic containers.
- Don’t take receipts from stores, or ask to have them dropped in your bag.
[i] Sangwoo Lee, Xiaoshan Liu, Shunichi Takeda, Kyungho Choi. Genotoxic potentials and related mechanisms of bisphenol A and other bisphenol compounds: A comparison study employing chicken DT40 cells. Chemosphere. 2013 Jun 18. Epub 2013 Jun 18. PMID: 23791112
[ii] Chunyang Liao, Kurunthachalam Kannan. Concentrations and Profiles of Bisphenol A and Other Bisphenol Analogues in Foodstuffs from the United States and their Implications for Human Exposure. J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Apr 24. Epub 2013 Apr 24. PMID: 23614805
Margie King is a holistic health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. A Wharton M.B.A. and practicing corporate attorney for 20 years, Margie left the world of business to pursue her passion for all things nutritious. She now works with midlife women and busy professionals to improve their health, energy and happiness through individual and group coaching, as well as webinars, workshops and cooking classes. She is also a professional copywriter and prolific health and nutrition writer whose work appears as the National Nutrition Examiner. To contact Margie, visit