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BPA Exposure During Pregnancy Has New Downsides — but Only for Girls

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

I was at a work conference just days after I found out I was pregnant with my first child. While we were sitting down to lunch at a nearby restaurant, I whispered to the waiter, “Is your feta cheese pasteurized?”

“Congratulations!” he exclaimed loudly, before telling me that the cheese was indeed safe for me to eat.

I was busted. My secret was out before I’d even had a chance to keep it. Apparently in the restaurant world, there are only so many reasons a woman asks if something is pasteurized. Pregnancy.

Asking about the cheese wouldn’t have been the only giveaway. It could have also been the sushi, the deli meat, or my turning down a glass of wine. The list of things you can’t or shouldn’t do or eat during pregnancy seems to grow every year. The more we learn about fetal development and the prenatal period, the more dangers we seem to discover. Sleeping on your back could restrict blood flow. Too much mercury-containing fish could harm the baby’s nervous system. A soak in the hot tub could raise your body’s temperature too much for the baby.

Now there’s another one to add to the list: BPA (bisphenol a) exposure in utero could lead to obesity in childhood. The same chemical found in plastic and canned food that has made glass bottles and stainless steel lunchboxes so popular could have one more adverse effect: predisposing our kids to obesity.

Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health have found a link between prenatal BPA exposure and body fat levels in children at age 7. BPA has been said to act as an endocrine disrupter, meaning it alters the way hormones work in the body.

The study revealed that kids with a higher exposure to BPA in utero had a greater fat mass index, percent of body fat, and waist circumference than those with lower levels of exposure. Furthermore, this association was shown in girls, not boys. The study also showed interesting data that childhood BPA exposure wasn’t linked to adult obesity, meaning there is something specific about the prenatal period that makes babies more vulnerable, which makes sense given the rapid rate of development and growth in utero.

While this could be “just one more thing” to add to the ever-growing list of “don’ts” during pregnancy, I see it as just one more way to set our kids up for the best health possible. If you could do something to help prevent obesity in your child, wouldn’t you want to? This is just one more way to help them; it just happens to occur before they’re born.

And while you could also just brush it off, saying it’s one more thing “they” have found to be dangerous, I see it as one more important clue as to why we struggle so much as a whole with obesity. Anyone who’s been on a diet or tried to lose weight can tell you that there’s more to it than simply diet and exercise. For some people that’s all it takes, but for others, even the healthiest diet and most dedicated fitness routine doesn’t help them drop the pounds. Factors like DNA, environment, and yes — fetal development — all play a role in obesity. The more we can learn about those other factors, the better chance we have to start making some progress in the nationwide battle of obesity.

To decrease BPA exposure during pregnancy, avoid plastic with the numbers 3, 6, or 7, and choose fresh or frozen food over canned. Also, choose glass, stainless steel, and ceramic materials over plastic when possible.

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