Pediatricians Sound Alarm About Food Additives and Children’s Health
When children ingest chemicals added to food and food packaging, their health may suffer, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns in a new policy statement, advising parents to be cautious about plastic containers, avoid processed meats and take other steps to limit kids’ exposure to food additives.
U.S. regulations currently allow more than 10,000 chemicals to be used in food and the materials that come in contact with it, noted the statement published in the August issue of Pediatrics. But there’s growing concern some of these substances could affect a child’s hormones and development.
Kids may be particularly susceptible because their dose of exposure is higher than that of adults, said lead author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an expert in children’s environmental health and associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine.
The report represents the accumulation of two decades of scientific research documenting increasing evidence about the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on children’s health.
The report focused on six additives and their potential health effects, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Bisphenols, like BPA, which are used to harden plastic containers and line metal cans. They can mimic estrogen and may change the timing of puberty, decrease fertility, increase body fat and affect the nervous and immune systems.
Phthalates, which make plastic and vinyl tubes flexible. They may affect male genital development, increase childhood obesity and contribute to heart disease.
Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs), which are used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging. They may reduce immunity, birth weight and fertility.
Perchlorate, which is added to some dry food packaging to control static electricity. It can disrupt thyroid function, early life brain development and growth.
Artificial food colors, which may worsen attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.
Nitrates, which are used to preserve food and enhance color in cured and processed meats. They can interfere with thyroid hormone production and the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen in the body.
Tips from the AAP, which represents 67,000 pediatricians, for changes you can make:
- Eat fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, and avoid processed meats, especially during pregnancy.
- Avoid microwaving food or beverages in plastic — including infant formula and pumped human milk — because heat can cause chemicals to leach into food.
- Use glass or stainless steel containers when possible.
- Avoid canned foods. Canned food is a major source of bisphenol exposure, Trasande said.
- If still opting for plastic, check the recycling code on a container’s bottom to find the plastic type. Avoid containers with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless they’re labeled as “biobased” or “greenware.”
- Reduce the use of plastic wrap when possible.