Bisphenol A, or BPA,  is a chemical that is used in the manufacturing of certain plastics. You’ve probably heard of it because there has been lots of research on its effects on babies. The FDA has recently banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, but BPA is still found in food cans and plastic packaging.

A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports that obese kids and teens have higher levels of BPA in their urine (and thus in their entire system.)

So should you take steps to prevent your teen from BPA exposure? Let’s examine it a little further.

BPA is found in some plastics and almost all food/ beverage cans (it helps the cans last longer, and withstand the sterilization process.) As I mentioned above, it is banned in certain infant products, but still exists in others. Some governments have gone further than the U.S. to limit consumer exposure to BPA; France and Sweden have outlawed its use in food containers. On the other hand, the governments of Switzerland and the U.K. decided that there was not enough evidence indicating harm to pass any laws against its use.

The current study links obesity in kids and teens with higher levels of BPA in their body. While there are various studies on the effects of BPA, this is the first to examine any relation to weight. (Interestingly, for non-white teens, BPA levels were not linked with obesity, and the reasons for that are unclear.)

It’s important to remember that just because obese kids and teens have higher BPA levels, doesn’t mean that the BPA caused their obesity. It could be the culprit, but we don’t know enough yet. One question raised is, while calorie levels were similar when the study compared subjects, did the type of calories eaten make a difference in weight? After all, packaged, canned, or microwave-in-container foods tend to have more refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats than homemade food (although not always), as well as more BPA. Another question is, why would this effect be true for white teens but not non-white teens?

If you’re worried about BPA exposure, there are steps you can take. Look for plastics where the number in the recycling symbol is 1, 2, or 4, and avoid 7s. Minimize microwaving food in plastic containers, as it may cause chemicals to leach into food; try using glass containers in the microwave (I am famous for bringing my food to work in mason jars.) If a plastic food container is scratched or generally falling apart, it’s time for new ones. Try not to put plastic containers in a dishwasher, where there is a lot more “wear and tear” during washing. If your teen uses a water bottle, choose a stainless steel bottle without a plastic lining. This is a great article about decreasing exposure to chemicals in food overall.

But if this isn’t a priority for you, that’s okay. I feel like parents are often so inundated with messages about what’s going to harm your kid next that it’s hard to decide what’s important. If you are worried about your teen’s weight, healthy body image, family meals, and exercise are the first places to start. If you’re worried about your teen’s overall safety, focus on driving, gun safety, and suicide prevention before tackling plastic exposure.

What are your thoughts on thus study? Will it change the way you look at food safety? I’d love to hear your thoughts!