How harmful is BPA to a child's health?

BPA is the acronym for bisphenol A, a chemical that is a commonly used in many household products including the lining of infant formula and other food cans. For many years, BPA was also used in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, until a public outcry over BPA leaching out of the plastic and into foods led bottle and cup manufacturers to switch to BPA-free plastics. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), bisphenols used in polycarbonate plastic containers and linings of aluminum cans have been associated with obesity and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Studies have also shown that hormone-disrupting BPA may pose several health risks, including behavioral disorders, reproductive health concerns, and diabetes.

These risks are thought to be higher for infants and children, due to their smaller bodies and potentially higher absorption rates. They are also thought to be higher for children exposed to the chemical in utero during their mother’s pregnancy. 

Despite conflicting data, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current stance ”is that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods” and “continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.” The FDA further states that it continues to carry out “in-depth studies to answer key questions and clarify uncertainties about BPA.”

In 2012, the FDA did ban manufacturers from using BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, but it's still legal for use in other products such as plastic dinnerware, food packaging and storage containers, and plastic bags.

Many experts disagree and suggest that the impact of BPA—and similar plastic chemicals—is likely to be dose-dependent (the more exposure you get, the greater the effect). Until we have a better understanding of how BPA effects our health, there are simple ways you can minimize your child’s exposure to plastic chemicals: 

  • Whenever possible, opt out of plastic. Choose glass, porcelain, or food-grade stainless steel baby bottles, water bottles, cups, and food containers whenever possible. 
  • Don’t microwave food or beverages in plastic containers. Heat increases the amount of chemicals that transfer from the plastic into the food. 
  • Avoid canned foods. BPA and BPS are in the epoxy lining of many canned food products. 
  • Check out the plastic recycling code on the products you buy. Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene) and 7 (bisphenols) unless plastics are labeled as biobased or greenware, indicating they are made from corn and do not contain bisphenols.
  • Retire plastic containers periodically. Repeated washings can also cause chemicals to leach out of plastic containers. Although studies haven’t determined a threshold for a “safe” amount of washing—variability in use, washing, and storage as well as chemical differences in plastic products makes drawing such conclusions difficult—the evidence shows that the amount of chemical leaching that occurs increases with repeated use. Change your plasticware periodically—or, better yet, replace it with glass, porcelain, or stainless steel pieces. 
  • Skip the receipts. Many thermal papers, such as those used by cash registers and at gas pumps, are coated with BPA. Either skip receipts altogether or put them in your wallet and not in food-filled bags. Wash your hands after shredding or throwing away receipts.

Last updated August 6, 2018

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