None of that proves cause and effect, though.
“We have to interpret the findings with caution,” Jacobson said. “We can’t infer that [the chemicals] cause obesity or weight gain.”
Instead, she said, the study shows that links between the chemicals and obesity exist. More research is needed to see whether, for example, the BPA substitutes are related to kids’ weight gain over time.
Dr. Robert Sargis is an assistant professor of endocrinology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said, “It’s very important to study these other bisphenols and determine their health effects.”
People may assume that a “BPA-free” label means a product is safe, Sargis noted, when, in fact, it often contains less-studied bisphenols.
The new findings, published online July 25 in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, are based on data from a government health study conducted between 2013 and 2016. It included 1,831 children and teens aged 6 to 19.
Nearly all had BPA in their urine samples, while 88% had BPS, and 55% had BPF.
Since bisphenols are often found in food packaging, people with high levels may eat a lot of processed foods. So, Jacobson noted, it can be difficult to tease out the effects of bisphenols from the effects of diet.
But, she said, her team was able to account for kids’ calorie intake. Even then, the link between bisphenols and obesity remained.
Plus, Sargis said, it’s not an either/or situation: Research suggests that diet and chemicals “interact” to create effects that are greater than those of either alone.
If you’re looking to avoid bisphenols, Samara Geller, of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, offered this advice: Eat fewer processed foods and more fresh ones; choose frozen or dried foods over canned, or foods sold in glass or other alternatives to cans and plastic; avoid hard, clear plastics with the recycling code 7 or marked “PC”; ask for electronic receipts; wash your hands after handling paper receipts.
Jacobson echoed that advice.
“We’re not sure yet what these [BPA substitutes] do,” she said. “But if you want to limit your exposure, there are some simple things you can do.”