At Westchester Health, we were shocked to recently learn that the United States allows the use of more than 10,000 additives in the everyday foods we eat. Approximately 1,000 of these additives are legally permitted under a “Generally Recognized as Safe” designation process that doesn’t require U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. A very timely blog by Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with our Westchester Health Pediatrics group (excerpted below) explains the details. There is also helpful information and advice for parents on a wide range of topics on the WHP website which you can access here.
Inadequate FDA regulation of food additives
A policy statement about the negative effects of food additives on children’s health was recently released by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), reviewing the harmful effects of chemicals that are deliberately added to our food (such as colorings, flavoring and chemicals), as well as substances used for processing and packaging (such as plastics, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard and different types of coatings).
As physicians and parents, we are most dismayed by the following passage from the press release about the AAP’s policy statement:
“An increasing number of studies suggest some food additives can interfere with a child’s hormones, growth, and development, according to the policy statement and accompanying technical report. Some may also increase the risk of childhood obesity, rates of which have tripled since the 1970s.”
Due to several problems with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the regulation of food additives is often inadequate, states the report. According to Dr. Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, FAAP, an AAP Council on Environmental Health member and lead author of the policy statement, “There are critical weaknesses in the current food additives regulatory process, which doesn’t do enough to ensure all chemicals added to foods are safe enough to be part of a family’s diet.” He adds, “As pediatricians, we’re especially concerned about significant gaps in data about the health effects of many of these chemicals on infants and children.”
Added chemicals in food can harm a child’s growth and development and possibly cause obesity
According to the AAP, children are more sensitive to exposure to these chemicals because they eat and drink more than adults relative to body weight. Most importantly, though, the damaging effects of food addictive are greater for children because they are still growing and developing.
Here are the most harmful additives based on research evidence cited in the AAP report:
- Bisphenols (such as BPA), used to harden plastic containers and line metal cans, can mimic estrogen in the body and potentially change the timing of puberty, decrease fertility, increase body fat and affect the nervous and immune systems. BPA is now banned in baby bottles and sippy cups.
- Phthalates, which makes plastic and vinyl tubes used in industrial food production flexible, may affect male genital development, increase childhood obesity and contribute to cardiovascular disease. In 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of some phthalates in child-care products such as teething rings.
- Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs), used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging, may reduce immunity, birth weight and fertility. Research also shows PFCs may affect the thyroid system which is integral to metabolism, digestion, muscle control, brain development and bone strength.
- Perchlorate, added to some dry food packaging to control static electricity, is known to disrupt thyroid function, early life brain development and growth.
- Artificial food colors, common in children’s food products, may be associated with elevated attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Studies cited in the report found that a significant number of children who eliminated synthetic food colorings from their diets showed decreased ADHD symptoms.
- Nitrates/nitrites, used to preserve food and enhance color (especially in cured and processed meats) can interfere with thyroid hormone production and the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to the body. Nitrates and nitrites also have been linked with gastrointestinal and nervous system cancers.
We at Westchester Health join the AAP in recommending 9 simple steps you can take to limit your child’s exposure to chemical food additives:
- Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and fish whenever possible. If you cannot obtain fresh items, frozen versions are the next best choice.
- Avoid canned foods since bisphenols are used in the lining of metal cans in order to prevent corrosion.
- Avoid processed meats which contain nitrites. This is especially important during pregnancy.
- Avoid microwaving food in plastic. This includes infant formula and expressed breast milk. Heating the plastic can cause chemicals to leech into the food or liquid. Also, microwaving your baby’s milk can cause burns in his/her mouth due to “hot spots” in the milk. Instead, invest in glass or ceramic microwaveable containers.
- Avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher, including baby bottles.
- When possible, store food in glass or stainless steel containers rather than plastic. This is not only good for your health but good for the environment too.
- Check the bottom of your plastic containers for the recycling code. Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene) and 7 (bisphenols) unless they are labeled “biobased” or “greenware.”
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating, especially those that cannot be peeled.
- Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching food and before eating. This will decrease exposure to chemicals on your hands as well as decrease your risk of infection from germs on your hands.
To learn more, read these important articles:
- American Academy of Pediatrics Says Some Common Food Additives May Pose Health Risks to Children (AAP press release)
- Food Additives and Child Health (AAP policy statement)
- Chemicals in Food May Harm Children, Pediatricians’ Group Says (The New York Times)
Worried about chemical additives in your food? Come see us.
If you’re concerned about the possible harmful effects of additives in your food, whether your family is being exposed to them, and how to reduce or eliminate this danger to your health, please come in and see one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. We will listen to your concerns and answer all your questions, or refer you to someone who can so you can have peace of mind. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
To read Dr. Adler’s blog in full, click here.