Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston have discovered that gestational exposure to an organic compound used in the manufacture of plastics could lead to development of behavior and mood disorders in girls at age 3.

The findings of the study, led by Joe M. Braun, PhD were reported this week online in the journal Pediatrics.

The compound bisphenol A (BPA) is widely used to produce cups, food containers and even credit card receipts, according to the research team.

Exposure to the compound resulted in a corresponding increase in hyperactivity, depression and anxiety scores among girls, but only a minimal response in boys. 

Because the study sample was so low, however — only a cohort of 244 children — the researchers urged that the findings be interpreted with caution.

In previous studies, Braun and his colleagues discovered that gestational exposure to the compound was associated with hyperactivity and aggressive behavior in girls at age 2.

The current study, a follow up to the earlier research, was carried out using maternal urine samples obtained during pregnancy weeks 16 and 26, with children’s samples obtained annually. Behavior was rated using the Behavior Assessment System for Children 2, and executive function rated on the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Funcction-Preschool.

Adjustments were made for maternal race, education, income and marital status, as well as other exposures such as tobacco.

Each tenfold increase in gestational urinary BPA was associated in higher scores for hyperactivity, emotional control, anxiety and depression, most notably in girls, the researchers found.

However, childhood exposure to BPA did not appear to influence neurobehavioral functions, nor were there gender differences in the response to BPA exposure in the control groups.

BPA is present not only in food packaging but also in thermal paper used in cash registers, credit card receipts, automatic gas station pumps, medical equipment and dental sealants.

The compound has been shown to have endocrine-disrupting properties that has raised red flags in the public health arena.

Braun and his colleagues advised consumers that “BPA exposure can be reduced by avoiding canned and packaged foods, receipts and polycarbonate bottles with the recycling symbol 7.”


Braun J, et al “Impact of early-life bisphenol A exposure on behavior and executive function in children” Pediatrics 2011; 128:873-882.