Food, Agriculture, Pollution

Food packaging, diet and BPA chemical exposure

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Last updated: April 25, 2011

Tinned food. Row of metal cans with no label

Scientific studies have suggested that two chemicals used in food packaging, Bisphenol A (BPA) and Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), can disrupt human endocrine systems and cause birth defects, autism and hyperactivity. While the adverse effects of BPA have been studied, the contribution of dietary exposure to total intake has not been fully investigated.

A 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethyhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention,” sought to measure the pattern of these chemicals as related to types of food consumed. The researchers selected 20 participants based on their self-reported use of canned and packaged foods. Participants ate their usual diets, followed by three days of consuming foods that were not canned or packaged.

The study’s findings include:

  • Evidence of BPA and DEHP in participants’ urine decreased by 50% to 70% during the period of eating fresh foods.
  • Participants’ reports of their food practices suggested that consumption of canned foods and beverages and restaurant meals were the most likely sources of exposure to the two chemicals in their usual diets.
  • Even beyond these 20 participants, BPA and DEHP exposure is widespread, with detectable levels in urine samples in more than an estimated 90% of the U.S. population.

The study’s authors suggest that removing BPA and DEHP from food packaging could significantly decrease exposure for adults and children. The researchers conclude that “these results illustrate how intervention studies of chemicals in consumer products can inform regulatory decision-making, product formulation and consumer choices.”

Tags: nutrition, consumer affairs, pollution


Writer: | April 25, 2011

Citation: Rudel, Ruthann A.; et al, "Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethyhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention," Environmental Health Perspectives March, 2011, PDF. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.100317.

Media analysis

Read the study-related San Francisco Chronicle article “Study: Packaged Food Raises Levels of Bisphenol A."

  1. Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
  2. Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (for example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)

Analysis assignments

Read the full Environmental Health Perspectives study " Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethyhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention” (PDF).

  1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
  2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
  3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

Newswriting assignments

  1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
  2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
  3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
  4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.

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