Hyper-Active Headlines on BPA

The journal Pediatics recently published findings from a research study suggesting that children exposed to the chemical bisphenol A (aka, BPA, which is a chemical used to make plastics and resins used in food packaging among other things) during gestation may eventually suffer from hyper-active or depressive behavior as toddlers — or not. The article is capturing scary headline like “BPA may make girls anxious, hyperactive, study says,” “Chemical may affect behavior in young girls,” and “Another sign of BPA’s dangers.”

Yet even the authors — who apparently really wanted to find something condemning — note that “the clinical relevance of these findings is unclear at this point,” and the potential “benefits” of reducing exposure to BPA-containing food packaging and other products is also “unclear.” The only real conclusion the authors could draw was that “findings presented here warrant additional research” — a plea found in most research articles. It might as well say: “mail the check to…” But even the need for more research should be questioned. BPA is one of the most studied chemicals and the body of research warrants little concern. See CEI’s study on the topic. Research dollars wold probably be better spent elsewhere.

This study measured BPA levels in urine of pregnant women on two occasions during pregnancy and once again at birth. The researchers later studied the children from these pregnancies to determine which had behavior issues. At this point, they also measured the levels of BPA in urine found in diapers on just three occasions, which apparently did not correlate with any behavioral issues. They found that mothers who had higher BPA levels in the three “spot” measurements also had more hyper-active or depressive children (particularly daughters)–at least in the opinion of these researchers. The researchers measured very difficult-to quantify characteristics such as: “aggression, attention, hyperactivity, depression, anxiety, and somatization.”

The true result was a lack of clarity — or compelling findings–because the study design is riddled with flaws. BPA levels vary widely from day to day and hour to hour, which means that short-term, “spot” measures are largely meaningless. Such measurements tell us nothing about actual, long-term exposure, which could be much higher or much lower than estimated  for each individual in the study. In addition, sample size, the authors admit, is also too small to generate meaningful findings. In fact, it is very possible that results are due to mere chance and maybe even researcher bias. They authors do mention that the association may be related to chance or even be related to other chemicals or factors.

The study does confirm one things: the human body metabolizes BPA quickly and passes it through urine, which many other studies have shown. This proven fact is a strong indicator that it does not remain in the human body where it can affect hormone levels or development of a fetus. In other words, the study found nothing new and nothing remarkable. But that doesn’t make a good headline.