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Chemicals in Plastic Bottles and the Risk of Obesity and Diabetes

DRC Director's Report, August 2017

As you all know, there are many factors that may contribute to the growing risk of obesity and diabetes worldwide. Many understand that an unhealthy diet, gaining too much weight or not exercising enough will certainly contribute to increasing your risk of diabetes.  However, there is also a growing realization that certain environmental exposures and chemicals to which we might be exposed could also increase this risk.

You may not be familiar with the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), but you probably have seen a label “BPA-free” on water bottles and/or food containers. BPA has been widely used in plastic products, including food containers and other consumer products. Mounting evidence suggests that BPA can disrupt endocrine and metabolic functions in animals and humans.

Consequently, there has been a trend of replacing BPA in part or as a whole by BPA alternatives, such as bisphenol F (BPF) and bisphenol S (BPS). Animal studies suggest that BPF and BPS exposure have adverse effects similar to BPA. However, health effects and safety of BPF and BPS use in humans are largely unknown.

This study by FOEDRC researchers at the University of Iowa led by Dr. Wei Bao, found that at the current environmental exposure level, BPA exposure, but not BPF or BPS exposure, was significantly associated with a higher risk of obesity in US adults. However, it is worth noting that current BPF and BPS exposures are much lower than BPA. 

Whether BPF and BPS pose an increased risk of obesity at the same population exposure levels as BPA remains unknown.  While this study provides some reassurance, it also urged the need for continued biomonitoring of these chemicals in populations and further investigations on their health effects in the future, considering the increasing use of BPF and BPS as substitutes of BPA in humans.

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