should reduce exposure to synthetic chemicals found in food
colorings, preservatives, and packaging materials as a growing
body of research show they may harm children’s health,
according to a policy statement and technical report from the
American Academy of Pediatrics released online recently.
statement also suggests improvements to the food additives
regulatory system including updating the scientific foundation
of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s safety assessment
program and retesting all previously approved chemicals.
Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, FAAP, an AAP Council on
Environmental Health member and lead author of the policy
statement, to tell us more about these concerns. He is also an
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine
& Population Health at NYU School of Medicine.
are the growing number of studies showing us?
the past two decades, an accumulating body of science suggests
some food additives can interfere with a child’s hormones,
growth, and development. In 2015, the Endocrine Society
released a scientific statement about endocrine-disrupting
chemicals which reviewed over 1,300 studies. The statement
raised concerns that these chemicals disrupt hormones and
harmful effects of food additives are of special concern for
children because they are more sensitive to chemical exposures
because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than
adults do, and are still growing and developing. An early
injury to their organ systems can have lifelong and permanent
additives does the statement highlight?
additives are put directly in foods, while
"indirect" additives may include chemicals from
plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard, and different types of
coatings used for processing and packaging. The additives of
most concern, based on rising research evidence cited in the
Bisphenols, such as BPA, used to harden plastic containers and
line metal cans, can act like 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, 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, key 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 worsened
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Studies
cited in the report found a significant number of children who
cut synthetic food colorings from their diets showed decreased
Nitrates/nitrites are used to preserve food and enhance color,
especially in cured and processed meats. These chemicals can
interfere with thyroid hormone production and the blood’s
ability to deliver oxygen in the body. Nitrates and nitrites
also have been linked with gastrointestinal and nervous system
are some additives like artificial colors banned in some
countries, but not in the U.S.?
regards to chemicals found in our food, the laws originally
put in place were thought to be enough to protect our health.
Since then, science has suggested that the current framework
does not work to protect us adequately. The U.S. allows the
use of more than 10,000 additives to preserve, package, or
modify the taste, appearance, texture, or nutrients in foods.
Many were grandfathered in for approval during the 1950s, and
roughly 1,000 additives are used under a "Generally
Recognized as Safe" designation process that doesn’t
require FDA approval. In the report, we urge a number of steps
that can be taken such as more regulation on the side of the
FDA. Some would require changes to the laws, while others can
be done by the FDA.
meantime, what does the AAP recommend?
are safe and simple steps that families can take to reduce
exposure. Studies show a substantial decrease in exposure can
make a difference. These steps include:
Buying and serving more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables,
and fewer processed meats—especially during pregnancy.
Since heat can cause plastics to leak BPA and phthalates into
food, avoid microwaving food or beverages, including infant
formula and pumped human milk, in plastic when possible. Also
try to avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher.
alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel,
plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and
7 (bisphenols) unless they are labeled as "biobased"
Washing hands thoroughly before and after touching food and
clean all fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.
can also show their concern by not buying certain products and
asking manufacturers to make changes. Often, we hear from
industry about the costs of safer alternatives, but the
benefits of prevention may be even greater, as we recognized
in a study back in 2014 examining the tradeoffs of removing
BPA from aluminum cans.