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American Academy of Pediatrics warns some food additives may not be safe for children

July 23, 2018
Two-year-old Adeline Pack
Two-year-old Adeline Pack eats a healthy lunch of organic broccoli, cheese, nitrate-free turkey, organic fruit and organic milk. Photo by Sarah Pack

MUSC Health doctors, including one who has conducted research on the effect of phthalates on babies’ development, are applauding the American Academy of Pediatrics’ call for stronger food safety requirements to protect kids. 

“As pediatricians, we stand proud that the AAP is calling for stricter regulation of chemicals that can have a significant impact on children’s health,” said critical care specialist Elizabeth Mack.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement, appearing today in the journal Pediatrics, calls for “urgently needed reforms to the U.S. food additive process.” It cites a growing body of research suggesting some food additives can affect children’s hormones, growth, development and obesity risk.

The AAP is targeting:

  • Bisphenols such as BPA, which are used to harden plastic containers and line metal cans.

  • Phthalates, which are chemicals that make plastic and vinyl tubes used in industrial food production flexible. 

  • Perfluoroalkyls, or PFCs, used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging. 

  • Perchlorate, which is added to some dry food packaging to control static electricity.

  • Artificial food colors, which according to the AAP may be associated with making attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms worse. 

  • Nitrates/nitrites, used to preserve food and enhance color, especially in meat.

The second item on that list, phthalates, is of particular interest to MUSC Health obstetrician-gynecologist Roger Newman. He’s been studying their possible impact on pregnant women and their unborn babies, working with scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Newman said they found prenatal exposure to phthalates appeared to have the potential to affect the genital development of some baby boys, a change that could signal later infertility and a low sperm counts.

ingredients in a bag of chips
The ingredients listed on a bag of chips include artificial colors.

He called the data from human and animal research overwhelming. “All the chemicals on this list are contributing to multiple infant, childhood and adolescent complications. The FDA must prove, rather than assume, that these endocrine-disrupting compounds are safe before allowing people to be exposed to them.”

Newman encouraged parents to take the AAP recommendations seriously. “While many of these chemicals are ubiquitous, several studies have demonstrated that consumers can dramatically reduce their exposure by being aware of, and adopting, recommendations such as those from the AAP.” 

Mack said parents should read labels and serve healthy food. “Fresh fruits and vegetables are extremely important to incorporate into a healthy diet.” 

She offered the following tips to parents:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching food.

  • Clean all fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.

  • Eat less processed meat.

  • Avoid microwaving food or beverages in plastic when possible.

  • Avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher.

  • Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless they are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware.”

Mack said glass and stainless steel are good alternatives to plastic. 

Should adults be concerned about the list of chemicals, too? Mack said avoiding them is good health advice for all people, but it has a greater impact on children’s growing bodies.  

“Children eat and drink more relative to their body weight than adults, so there are more opportunities to make a healthy choice.”




About the Author

Helen Adams

Keywords: Pediatrics