A study from Kaiser Permanente (KP) published in the journal PLOS ONE indicates that girls between nine and 12 years old with higher-than-average levels of BPA in their urine had double the risk of being obese than those with lower levels.
De-Kun Li, MD, PhD, MPH, principal study investigator and epidemiologist at the KP Division of Research (Oakland, GA), said, "This study provides evidence from a human population that confirms the findings from animal studies: that high BPA exposure levels could increase the risk of overweight or obesity.”
Li claimed that BPA, used in various food packaging, is a known endocrine disrupter. He added that he and his study colleagues believe girls in the early stages of puberty may be more sensitive to the potential impacts of BPA because of the physical changes.
However, representatives from various industry groups with businesses related to food packaging and materials used in such packaging have raised questions about the study. Such groups include the Washington, DC-based American Chemistry Council (ACC) and PlasticsEurope (based in Brussels, Belgium).
Bryan Goodman, representative of the ACC, told Food Production Daily that his organization cautions upon drawing dramatic conclusions from the results of one research project.
“It is important that we look at the vast body of scientific evidence, rather than a single study, to draw conclusions about safety,” he said. “BPA is among the most tested chemicals in commerce. Regulatory bodies around the world, including the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration), have reviewed the science and have concluded that BPA is safe in food contact materials. FDA’s current perspective is based on its review of hundreds of studies, as well as its comprehensive research on BPA."
Goodman added that other studies examining BPA’s effects on animals have not established any BPA-obesity link.
“Dozens of studies have monitored the body weight of laboratory animals exposed to BPA,” he said. “These studies found no consistent effect on body weight, indicating that BPA exposure is not likely to cause obesity.”
In a released statement, PlasticsEurope claimed that the Li study was deeply flawed and failed to actually establish a conclusive link between BPA and increased incidence of obesity. The cross-sectional study, the statement claims, looked at subjects in whom obesity already had developed, and it also provides no information on the actual causes of obesity in the subjects.
“Due to this and other inherent, fundamental limitations in the study, it is incapable of establishing any meaningful connection between BPA and obesity,” the PlasticsEurope statement claims, adding that “Attempts to link human obesity to minute exposures to chemicals found in common, everyday products are a distraction from the real efforts underway to address the important national health issue of obesity.”
Goodman of the ACC said that in the face of questionable evidence against BPA, groups like his can combat the negative tide by coming back with evidence, and a clear message.
“Our role as industry is to communicate in a clear and transparent way about the science with customers and consumers and to leave decisions about policy to regulatory bodies like the FDA and EPA,” he said.
Rough road ahead
Groups like the ACC and PlasticsEurope likely will have their work cut out for them thanks to legislation in process around the US and the rest of the world. States such as Maine have introduced legislation that requires labeling or outright bans the chemical.
Further, such groups could have to wrangle with the BPA in Food Packaging Right to Know Act. Introduced in the US Congress by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on June 10, the legislation would require any food-contact packaging containing the chemical to be labelled as such. It may be interesting to note that the text of the bill simultaneously claims the public has the right to be aware of a package’s BPA content and states that no scientific certainty exists that BPA poses any health risks.