In Utero Exposure to BPA Linked to Developmental Problems in Girls


BPA has already been linked to a variety of problems, but new research makes the case against the plastic additive even stronger


In the minds of many, the plastic additive BPA is a four-letter word, as it's been linked to a variety of problems, from reduced female fertility to increased diabetes risk. A new study on its effects on children's cognitive development won't help its case any: the research finds that in utero exposure, rather than childhood exposure, may be responsible for developmental problems in children by age three.

In the new study, the researchers measured women's BPA levels when they were 16 and 26 weeks pregnant, and later, the children's BPA levels at one, two, and three years of age. They had the mothers fill out surveys in order to determine the behavioral characteristics of the children.

The researchers found BPA in 97 percent of the pregnant women and their children. This prevalence may sound extraordinary, but in truth, because of the ubiquity of BPA in everything from water bottles to medical equipment to dental seals to store receipts, it's found in the bodies of most people in the industrialized world.

The unexpected part of the findings followed. For each 10-fold increase in the pregnant women's BPA levels, the children had more anxiety, hyperactivity, and depression, and lower emotional control and inhibition. "None of the children had clinically abnormal behavior, but some children had more behavior problems than others," said lead researcher Joe Braun. And it wasn't the children's BPA levels that were linked to differences in behavior, it was just their mother's.

Even more intriguing was that after controlling for outside variables, the effect was found in girls, but not boys. The authors suggest that because BPA is known to be a hormone disruptor, it's possible that it interacts with the hormone or neurotransmitter pathways differently in males and females. They do caution that because of methodological considerations, more research is needed before jumping to any conclusions about BPA and gender.

Still, the authors do say that clinicians might want to advise their pregnant patients to reduce intake as much as possible, since there does seem to be some connection between prenatal BPA exposure and behavior in kids. More research will clearly be needed to understand the relationship more fully, but there's certainly no harm in being careful about BPA consumption now. According to the authors, "BPA exposure can be reduced by avoiding canned and packaged foods, receipts, and polycarbonate bottles with the recycling symbol 7." For more information on BPA safety, see the NIH's website on this subject.

Joe Braun is a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health; the study was published in the October 24, 2011 online issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Image: monticello/Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on, an Atlantic partner site.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a health journalist and an editor at The Doctor Will See You Now.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Health

Just In