Food Additives: How They May Affect Your Child’s Health
A recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says chemicals in food additives may cause a health risk to children.
The group of pediatricians released a statement along with the report calling for strong U.S. safety measures toward chemicals used for food coloring, preservatives and packaging.
Manufacturers are currently permitted to add more than 10,000 chemicals to food in the U.S.A., but the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is unable to ensure all of those chemicals are safe. Roughly 1,000 additives are used under a “Generally Recognized as Safe” designation that does not require FDA approval.
The AAP says children are particularly vulnerable because they are still growing and developing.
“A rising number of studies suggest that some food additives may interfere with hormones, growth and development in children,” says Tanner Walsh, M.D., a pediatrician at Crozer Health. “Some may also raise a child’s risk of obesity.”
Below are some of the additives of greatest concern, according to the report. Some are indirect additives, meaning they are used in processing or packaging but are not put directly into food. They become a concern when food is heated in packaging containing those additives.
- Bisphenols: Used to harden plastic containers and prevent rust on metal cans, bisphenol can act like estrogen in the body and may change the timing of puberty, decrease fertility, increase body fat and possibly affect the nervous system.
- Synthetic artificial food colors (AFCs): These are used to improve the appearance of processed foods and beverages. They can sometimes act as substitutes for nutritious ingredients, such as a fruit juice drink that contains no actual fruit.
“They may have effects on a child’s behavior or attention,” says Walsh. “Studies continue to look at any connection between food coloring and hyperactive behavior in children.”
- Nitrates/nitrites: They act as a preservative and color enhancer in things like processed meats, fish and cheese. They have been linked with tumors in the digestive and nervous system, as well as thyroid problems. In infants and toddlers, they can cause methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder in which too little oxygen is delivered to cells.
“The next time you’re shopping, read the labels to get an idea of just how many preservatives, artificial colors and flavors are found in popular food and drinks advertised to children,” says Walsh. “Choose things for your family that lessens their exposure to food additives.” The AAP offered the following guidance to families concerned with chemicals in food:
- Eat fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables when possible and fewer processed meats.
- Avoid microwaving food or beverages in plastic.
- Avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher.
- Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.
- Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene) and 7 (bisphenols) unless they are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware.”
- Wash all fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled, as well as your hands before and after touching food.