Will BPA Exposure Make Your Baby Daughter Aggressive?

October 09, 2009 08:00 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
A recent study suggests there may be a link between prenatal exposure to the chemical and increased aggression in little girls, but many find the association to be unfounded.

BPA Exposure Linked to Aggression

Preliminary research at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, suggests that fetal exposure to the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), commonly found in plastics, could be related to increased aggression and hyperactivity in little girls, Sarah Avery reports for the News & Observer.

BPA is generally found in everyday plastic items such as water bottles, the liners inside canned goods and food containers. A small percentage of the chemical leaks through the material, and is typically present in most people’s systems. As Avery explains, the debate around the chemical’s possible dangers relates to its potential to “mimic estrogen,” a key hormone in the establishment of sex differences in growing fetuses. Consistent fetal exposure to the chemical could have the effect of “abolish[ing] or revers[ing] inherent behavioral differences between the sexes,” resulting in female children acting more aggressive.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggests that “[p]renatal exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA) increases offspring aggression and diminishes differences in sexually dimorphic behaviors in rodents.” The scientists studied 249 pregnant women, monitoring the BPA concentration in their urine and correlating it to their children’s behavioral patterns up to 2 years later. The scientists concluded that there could be an association between prenatal BPA exposure and “externalizing behaviors in two-year old children, especially among female children.”

Joe Braun, a UNC-Chapel Hill researcher and coauthor of the study, explained that when implementing the Behavioral Assessment System for Children-2 (BASC-2), “[t]he girls had aggression scores that were similar to those of boys,” but “[b]oys appeared unaffected by BPA,” Liz Szabo reports for USA Today. Braun notes, however, that the team will continue to monitor the children until the age of 5, because behavioral changes are possible over the years. 

Opinion & Analysis: Should BPA worry consumers?

Some scientists and physicians don’t believe the correlation between prenatal BPA exposure and increased aggression in young girls. Pediatrician Lawrence Diller, for instance, says other factors could have played a part in the girls’ behavior, and suggests that “a more comprehensive study” is necessary before coming to any steadfast conclusions, USA Today reports. Similarly, Michelle Macias, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, pointed out that “the increases in aggression were subtle,” and did not point to a serious behavioral disorder.

Scientists from the American Chemistry Council said the study had “significant limitations” that in their opinion “failed to establish cause-and-effect relationships,” CBC News of Canada reports.

On the other hand, Bruce Lanphear, a Simon Fraser University professor of children's environmental health and coauthor of the study, expressed his concern about the potential dangers of BPA if health authorities don’t take this initial warning seriously. “What this study shows—along with the other animal toxicity studies—is that if we want to protect kids, it would suggest we need to protect pregnant women as well,” he told CBC News.

More research with far larger groups of women is planned to see whether the results are valid.

Background: A call for BPA-free plastics

Last year, health officials in Canada banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and other baby products.

The United States has yet to take similar action. According to Deborah Mitchell in EmaxHealth, the Secretary of Health and Human Services must notify Congress before Dec. 31, 2009, as to whether “the available scientific data support a determination that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm, for infants, young children, pregnant women, and adults, for approved uses of polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resin made with bisphenol A.”

Although it is up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine whether to ban the use of BPA in containers and other items, particularly those meant for baby use, many companies are already taking the initiative to do so.

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