Published on 14th August 2019


Chemicals used to replace bisphenol-A (BPA) in materials such as plastics, cans and till receipts have been associated with child obesity by a study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

After coming under fire following concerns that it interferes with the body’s hormone system, BPA – which was commonly used in food containers such as water bottles – has been widely replaced with two other chemicals, namely, bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF). Yet following research that found children with higher levels of BPS and BPF in their urine were more likely to be obese, these replacement chemicals may now need further investigation.

Analysing data on children and teenagers aged between six and 19, researchers found that BPA, BPS and BPF were detected in 97.5, 87.8 and 55.2 per cent of urine samples, respectively. BPS concentrations were associated with an increased prevalence of general obesity and abdominal obesity, and detection of BPF was associated with an increased prevalence of abdominal obesity. BPA and total bisphenols, however, were not significantly associated with general obesity, abdominal obesity, or any body mass outcome.

The study's corresponding author Melanie Jacobson, of NYU School of Medicine in New York, USA, said: "Although diet and exercise are still understood to [be] the main drivers of obesity, this research suggests that common chemical exposures may also play a role, specifically among children.

"In a previous study, we found that the predecessor chemical to BPS and BPF – BPA – was associated with a higher prevalence [of] obesity in US children, and this study found the same trend among these newer versions of that chemical. Replacing BPA with similar chemicals does nothing to mitigate the harms chemical exposure has on our health."

The authors had analysed data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys for 2013-2016. However, despite their findings, they acknowledged that the results should be interpreted with caution, and that they were unable to confirm whether exposure to bisphenols influences weight gain or obesity, or whether obese children may have greater exposures to or excretion of bisphenol compounds.

Commenting, Dr Rod Mitchell, an honorary consultant paediatric endocrinologist at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Edinburgh, said: “The major challenge in trying to determine causation relates to the fact that a large proportion of bisphenol exposure comes from food packaging. This makes it very difficult to separate bisphenol exposure from effects of diet itself when it comes to obesity. Whilst the study attempted to correct for calorie intake, it was not able to take into account the composition of the diet which is considered to be a major contributor to childhood obesity. 

“The study design involved measuring bisphenols in a single ‘spot’ urine sample. Given the rapid metabolism of these agents it may not reflect bisphenol exposure over extended time periods which is important when trying to determine potential causation. 

“It should be borne in mind that diet and activity remain major contributors to overall obesity in the population and as such modification of these lifestyle factors are likely to produce the most benefit in reducing childhood obesity.”