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Common Food Additives Harm Children’s Health, Pediatricians Warn

Health + Wellness

A pediatricians' group representing 67,000 U.S. doctors published a statement and report Monday warning about the impact common chemicals in food and food packaging are having on children's health, The Globe and Mail reported.

The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement expressed concern over a growing body of research linking chemicals commonly added to food as coloring or flavorings or used in food packaging with health risks like hormone disruption. The doctors further argued that U.S. food regulation policy does not do enough to protect against these chemicals.


"We've reached a moment wherein we recognize that the science is suggesting that we can't assume that chemicals are innocent until proven guilty," lead statement author Dr. Leonardo Trasande told The Globe and Mail.

Chemicals highlighted by the statement include bisphenols, used in the lining of metal cans; phthalates, which are used to make plastic packaging; perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs), which are used to make grease-resistant packaging; perchlorate, used in dry-goods packaging and to clean food-making equipment; and nitrates and nitrites, used as common preservatives, especially in meats.

Studies in recent years have linked these chemicals with hormone disruption, which is especially damaging for children since their organs are still developing and any disruption of the process can have lifetime impacts.

Perchlorate, for example, has been known to disrupt the thyroid hormone, and the doctors said it might be partly responsible for the rise in neonatal hypothyroidism in the U.S.

There is also an environmental justice aspect to exposure to these chemicals. The statement pointed out that evidence of exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) was higher among African American and low-income individuals. BPA has been linked to obesity, which is also higher among children of color and in low-income communities.

The statement argued that these chemicals are not sufficiently regulated because of two main problems with the U.S. food regulation system.

First, around 1,000 chemicals are used in the U.S. under a "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) designation that does not require Federal Drug Administration (FDA) testing and approval. Second, the FDA is not authorized to retest additives once they are already on the market.

The GRAS mechanism also invites corruption.

"A recent evaluation of 451 GRAS evaluations voluntarily submitted to the FDA revealed that 22.4% of evaluations were made by an employee of the manufacturer, 13.3% were made by an employee of a consulting firm selected by the manufacturer, and 64.3% were made by an expert panel selected by the consulting firm or manufacturer. None were made by a third party," the statement said.

Luckily, there are simple things that parents can do to protect their children's health while they wait for FDA reforms.

"Avoiding canned food is a great way to reduce your bisphenol exposure in general, and avoiding packaged and processed food is a good way to avoid phthalates exposures," Dr. Trasande told The New York Times.

The statement also recommended choosing fresh fruits and vegetables as much as possible, avoiding meat consumption when pregnant, not dishwashing or microwaving plastic containers, using glass or stainless steel instead of plastic when possible, avoiding plastic packaging with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene) and 7 (bisphenols), and washing hands before handling foods.

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