Gender bending chemicals in normal household goods could cause obesity in children
Bisphenol A is found in dozens of household items from sunglasses to food packagingScientists believe it interferes
with the way the body processes hormones
06:46 GMT, 19 September 2012
A chemical found in baby bottles, food packaging and tooth fillings could be making children fat, claim scientists.
Research has shown that youngsters exposed to high levels of Bisphenol A are twice as likely to be obese.
The substance – known as BPA – is widely used in manufacturing and can be found in dozens of household items from sunglasses to food packaging to the ends of knives and forks.
Hidden danger: Bisphenol A, a chemical found in baby bottles, food packaging and tooth fillings could be making children fat, claim scientists
But it is often referred to as the gender-bending chemical as it is a man-made version of the sex-hormone oestrogen.
Some scientists believe it interferes with the way the body processes hormones and it has also been linked to fertility problems, breast cancer and liver damage.
Now researchers from New York believe that BPA may be causing obesity by disrupting the body's metabolism – how it breaks down food.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they looked at 2,800 children aged between 6 and 19 years old.
They measured the amount of BPA in their urine and also worked out their body mass index, which determines whether they are slim, normal weight or obese.
Children who were exposed to the highest levels of the chemical were more than twice as likely to be obese.
Researchers found children who were exposed to the highest levels of the chemical were more than twice as likely to be obese
The scientists had divided them into four groups depending on their exposure levels.
Some 22 per cent of those in the highest BPA group were obese compared to 10 per cent in the lowest.
The researchers said the chemical is everywhere with nearly 93 per cent of the US population having detectable amounts in their urine – Britain is likely to be very similar.
Dr Leonardo Trasande, of the New York University school of medicine said: 'In experimental studies, BPA exposure has been shown to disrupt multiple metabolic mechanisms, suggesting that it may increase body mass in environmentally relevant doses and therefore contribute to obesity in humans.'
'To our knowledge, this is the first report of an association of an environmental chemical exposure with childhood obesity in a nationally representative sample.'
But British scientists pointed out that obese children were more likely to eat more food, so would be exposed to higher levels of chemicals from the packaging anyway.
Professor Richard Sharpe, from the Medical Research Council Centre for Reproductive Health at The University of Edinburgh, said: 'Such an association could arise because children who are obese choose to eat more of foods, such as canned drink and foods, that contain more bisphenol A than do non-obese children.
'Nevertheless, the possibility that bisphenol A exposure could causally contribute to obesity cannot be dismissed, even if it seems unlikely.'