Despite national efforts to improve the nutritional value of school lunches, there may be an unintended consequence threatening the health of our children: exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), the harmful endocrine disrupting chemical common in plastics and canned foods.
That's according to researchers at Stanford University and the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, who say a number of school meals may contain “unsafe levels of bisphenol A.” BPA is considered a health risk because it mimics human hormones and has been linked to developmental and metabolic issues. It’s especially a risk factor for fetuses, infants, and children, as studies have found exposure at low levels can be particularly strong. The study was published in the recent issue of the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.
"There are known sources of BPA being used in school food," Jennifer C. Hartle, a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford and lead author of the study, told the Baltimore Sun. "Everybody knows about pesticides as a potential problem with food," she said. "Well, the packaging is something else to consider."
The researchers spent time in school kitchens and interviewed food service employees about the foods being prepared for the students. They compared the data to previous studies on BPA’s ability to leach into foods from cans and plastic packaging to calculate the exposure risk for children.
According to Hartle, canned food is the largest culprit, with canned and prepackaged beans and fruits common in most schools.
“Depending on what's served and what actually gets consumed — the researchers estimated 12 percent gets tossed uneaten — students could be getting anywhere from a negligible amount of BPA up to 1.19 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, the study concluded,” the Sun reports.
According to the EPA, 50 micrograms per kilo of body weight is the safe intake limit. But Europe’s food safety authority recently lowered its limit to 4 micrograms per kilo.
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School cafeteria image via Shutterstock