Adolescents’ bone health affected by PFAS exposure

Impact of Perfluoroalkyl substances on bone health in adolescents.


Researchers from USC’s Keck School of Medicine conducted one of the first studies on “forever chemicals” (PFAS), which do not break down over time. This longitudinal study specifically examined bone density in young Hispanics.

PFAS, chemicals found in items like food packaging, can cause health problems, including reproductive issues and cancer risk. Recent research, mostly with older non-Hispanic white individuals, links PFAS to lower bone density. A study from USC’s Keck School of Medicine, focusing on young Hispanics, confirms these findings over time. This group is at increased risk of bone diseases in adulthood.

Vaia Lida Chatzi, MD, Ph.D., a population and public health sciences professor at the Keck School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, said, “This is a population completely understudied in this area of research, despite having an increased risk for bone disease and osteoporosis.”

In a study of 304 teens, Exposure to PFAS was tied to lower bone density as they grew. In 137 young adults, PFAS was linked to lower starting bone density, but no changes were seen over time. These findings were recently published in the journal Environmental Research.

Emily Beglarian, MPH, a doctoral student in the Keck School of Medicine’s Department of Population and Public Health Sciences and lead author of the study, said, “Many existing studies haven’t included participants this young, but we’re now able to see that this association is already happening at a time when bones are supposed to be developing,”

Bone density increases during adolescence, peaking between 20 and 30, then slowly declines. The researchers wanted to understand how PFAS could affect young people since peak bone density predicts osteoporosis risk. They studied 304 Hispanic teens and 137 young adults, finding that higher PFAS levels were linked to decreased bone density. Stricter regulations on PFAS are crucial, especially for high-risk communities like Hispanics.

While the responsibility shouldn’t solely be on individuals, outreach efforts will help people limit personal Exposure. The researchers plan to expand their study across different age groups and communities, focusing on Hispanics, and investigate the biological mechanisms behind PFAS’s effects on bone health.

The researchers emphasize the need for stricter rules on PFAS to protect vulnerable communities, like Hispanics, exposed to multiple pollutants. Regulating PFAS collectively is crucial due to Exposure to numerous chemicals. While individuals shouldn’t bear the burden, the researchers plan outreach to guide people on reducing personal Exposure—tips include avoiding nonstick pans and certain personal care products.

The team expands research across age groups and U.S. communities, focusing on Hispanics. They aim to explore the biological reasons behind PFAS affecting bone health and find early indicators of bone health risk before osteoporosis develops.

The Keck School of Medicine study reveals a concerning link between PFAS exposure and weakened bone health in adolescents and young adults, emphasizing the necessity for strict regulations. The widespread presence of PFAS in the environment prompts a call for collective efforts to minimize Exposure, particularly in high-risk communities like Hispanics. Future research will extend across various age groups and communities, focusing on understanding the biological mechanisms behind PFAS’s impact on bone health and identifying early indicators of compromised bone health.

Journal reference:

  1. Emily Beglarian, Elizabeth Costello, et al., Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and longitudinal changes in bone mineral density in adolescents and young adults: A multi-cohort study. Environmental Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2023.117611.


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