Food additives used to preserve, package, and enhance food can be toxic to children’s health. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), growing scientific evidence has found that chemical food additives can alter children’s hormone systems, which can impact their development.
AAP released a new policy statement and technical report on the research on Monday, July 23. The policy statement includes suggestions to improve regulations on food additives and an update to the FDA’s safety assessment program.
The official policy statement on food additives comes from a body of research that has been accumulating for the last 20 years. In 2015, the Endocrine Society released a scientific statement about chemicals that were disrupting people’s endocrine levels in 1,300 studies.
Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an environmental health researcher with New York University’s School of Medicine, says the chemicals are capable of affecting everyone regardless of age. Yet, the additives are especially hazardous to children because they’re still developing.
“Pound for pound, they eat more food, so they have higher levels of exposure compared to us adults,” said Trasande. “Their organs are still developing in various ways, such that effects on that development can be permanent and lifelong.”
Children are more sensitive to chemical exposure because they’re eating more food relative to their small size and body weight compared to adults.
For instance, the average American eats a burger 4.3 times every month. Were a child and an adult to eat the same number of burgers, the child would experience more weight gain because they’re smaller. But, in this case, the problem is the chemical additives in food.
Some of the key chemical players that can affect food safety include:
- Phthalates. These chemicals are found in vinyl and plastic tubes that are often used in industrial food production. They can increase the risk of heart disease and affect genital development.
- Nitrates/nitrites. These chemicals are used to preserve foods and are often popular in processed meats. They’ve been linked with thyroid issues, gastrointestinal cancers, and nervous system cancers.
- Artificial food colors. These chemicals have been associated with increased and worsened ADHD symptoms.
- Bisphenols. These chemicals are used in the lining of metal cans and plastics. They can decrease fertility, increase body fat, and affect the immune and nervous systems.
- Perchlorate. This chemical is often added to the packaging of dry food. It’s been associated with brain development issues and thyroid problems.
- Perfluoroalkyl chemicals. Also known as PFCs, these chemicals are used in non-stick food packaging. They can affect the thyroid, fertility, and reduce immunity.
Although it’s important that children are getting enough exercise (two-thirds of parents say they’re worried their child is spending too much on their electronic devices) and are drinking enough water (the average family of four uses approximately 400 gallons of water a day), it’s still critical to pay attention to the ingredients in your child’s diet.
Packaging can be deceiving. And something that’s advertised as healthy may not be the best for your child.
Children make up more than 43% of those enrolled in Medicare, but it’s best to prevent your child from eating additives before they become sick.
Tighter regulation is needed on food additives. But for now, parents can choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables rather than those that are canned. It’s also recommended not to eat processed meat and to avoid microwaving plastic containers with food.