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Can Exposure to BPA During Pregnancy Cause Childhood Obesity?

Photograph by Twenty20

If you’re pregnant, you might want to rethink drinking bottled water or eating canned food, both of which often contain a common chemical known as Bisphenol A (BPA). According to new research published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, prenatal exposure to BPA could affect your child's likelihood of obesity by the time they're in elementary school.

Researchers examined 369 pairs of moms and kids from pregnancy through early childhood in New York City. They determined BPA exposure by measuring the concentration of the chemical and its metabolites in the mom's urine samples during the third trimester, and then in the kids at ages 3 and 5. They also recorded the children's height and weight at ages 5 and 7, and their waist circumference and fat mass at age 7.

What they found, after adjusting for socioeconomic and environmental factors, was that children who were exposed to higher concentrations of BPA while in the womb had more fatty tissue than other children exposed to lesser concentrations of BPA.

Lori Hoepner, lead author of the study conducted at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, said the study shows evidence that "prenatal exposure to BPA may contribute to developmental origins of obesity as determined by measures of body fat in children, as opposed to the traditional indicator of body mass index, which only considers height and weight." That is, it's likely that fetal BPA exposure has lasting effects on whether your child is predisposed to obesity.

About 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2–19 are affected by obesity in the U.S., and the rate of childhood obesity is higher among Hispanic and black children than among non-Hispanic whites, according to data from the CDC.

It's thought that BPA may act as an endocrine disruptor, which means it can actually alter your baby's metabolism and how fat cells are formed in early life, according to Andrew Rundle, one of the study's co-author and the co-director of the Obesity Prevention Initiative at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

This is the first time research has shown a link between mom's exposure during pregnancy affecting children down the line, and BPA has also previously been linked to asthma, ADHD, anxiety, depression, early puberty for girls, diabetes and heart disease in adults.

So does this mean your kids will definitely be fat if you’re exposed to BPA while pregnant? Not exactly. But if you've got a girl, you might be interested to know that when the researchers broke the data down by sex, there was a "significant association between BPA and fat mass index and waist circumference in girls." There was no association with BPA exposure and body fat in boys, or BPA exposure during childhood—which means babies are more vulnerable to exposure during the prenatal stage than after being born.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences suggests that to reduce your BPA exposure, you should avoid plastics labeled number 3 and 7, eat more fresh foods rather than canned and store hot foods or liquids in glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers.

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