The controversial chemical BPA may be lurking in the child-friendly canned foods you’ve been serving your kids for dinner, a new report suggests.
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Breast Cancer Fund researchers tested for bisphenol A (BPA) in six products specifically marketed to children. Included in the list were such popular kid-targeted meals as Campbell’s “Disney Princess" soup with "shaped pasta with chicken in chicken broth” and Annie’s Homegrown certified organic “Cheesy Ravioli."
BPA, which is found in plastics, cash-register receipts, dental sealants and even money, has been linked in animal studies to a host of health ills, including possible cancers and developmental problems and early puberty.
For the new report, researchers looked at canned products that "were specifically marketed to kids: either ones with pictures of favorite cartoon characters or labels that said something about kids,” said Connie Engel, science education coordinator at the Breast Cancer Fund, a national non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and eliminating environmental links to breast cancer. “The levels we found in these canned foods were a little higher than those previously found in baby bottles and water bottles.”
Many plastic bottle manufacturers changed their formulations to exclude BPA, however, the verdict is still out on how much BPA it might take to have a toxic effect on children.
The Food and Drug Administration has called for more research on the substance explaining that the agency has “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate glands of fetuses, infants, and children.”
So, where is the BPA coming from in these canned foods?
It’s in the resins that manufacturers use to coat the insides of all cans. The resins are designed to block metals from leaching into foods as well as to prevent a metallic taste, experts said.
“Every advance usually has benefits and tradeoffs,” explained Thomas Burke, a professor and associate dean at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. “For example, many kids of my generation got cuts from broken glass at the beach. Plastic bottles probably reduced the likelihood of that happening. But they were also a source of BPA.”
One big problem for experts is the scanty research on the effects of BPA in humans.
While animal studies have shown that high levels of BPA can lead to health problems, no one really knows what low levels do. “Probably one of the most vexing issues in public health is determining the effects of low levels of chemicals like BPA,” Burke said.
That’s not the only problem when it comes to figuring out the risks. One of the biggest controversies in public health right now is whether the findings from animal studies at high doses translate into a risk for humans, said Joe Braun, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Sometimes they do.
“Historically we didn’t consider a child to be suffering from lead poisoning until he showed up in the hospital with encephalopathy and seizures,” Braun said. “Now we know much lower exposures can have a big impact.”
Neither Braun nor Burke was ready to warn parents off canned goods altogether and said parents shouldn’t be alarmed at the BPA their kids may have already consumed.
The good thing about BPA is that it doesn’t seem to accumulate in your system permanently, Burke said. “We all have it in our bodies,” he explained. “But if you stop exposure, the levels go down — a lot faster than some of the pesticides, or lead, or mercury.”
Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of the new book "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic.”
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