Food Additives and Child Health

Food Additives and Child Health

Hmmmm – seems The American Academy of Pediatrics have recently stated that food colourings are not the innocuous stuff most people consider them to be. What’s more, (wait for it) they may actually be dangerous to children. If you’re reading this blog, chances are this IS NOT ground-breaking news for you. So here’s a few take home points to give you a boost of intestinal fortitude to continue resisting fake foods.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just issued a policy statement about the risks to children’s health of the more than 10,000 chemicals directly or indirectly added to food and “food contact materials” in the U.S. 1

WHY the report?
What’s their concern?

With 38% of children either overweight or obese, the childhood obesity epidemic tends to top the list of concerns for many governments, along with related issues such as children’s fast food consumption and the damaging effects of junk food advertising.

According to the report the majority of additives in U.S. foods have undergone either inadequate or zero regulatory over-sight 1

A recent nationally representative survey outlined that about 60% of the calories consumed by Americans come from “ultra-processed” foods and beverages—defined as products resulting from “several sequences of industrial processes” and including additives “used to imitate sensory properties of foods or to disguise unpalatable aspects of the final product.”2

Alarmingly, the survey showed that adolescents (10- to 19-year-olds) were among the biggest consumers of ultra-processed foods and that their intake of these foods increased from 2007 to 2012, rising to over two-thirds (68%) of total calories consumed.

Published in July 2018 in Pediatrics, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy has three primary aims:

  • to review and highlight the significant health concerns associated with the chemicals in foods;
  • to formulate recommendations that pediatricians can share with families; and
  • to propose “urgently needed reforms” pertaining to regulation of food additives by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The organization outlines some of the issues: 1

  • Food colourings have been linked to a whole host of health problems, including attention deficits, memory problems and even cancer.
  • There are currently 9 artificial food colors approved for use in the United States, including: Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 3, Red 40, Citrus Red 2 and Orange B. Their use has increased 500% between 1950 and 2012 and are often used in baked goods and candy that is marketed to children—the people who are most at risk of suffering from their health effects.
  • Blue dye 1 may cross the blood-brain barrier—a protective mechanism in the body to protect the brain from harmful chemicals. However, if toxic chemicals gain access to the brain they may cause inflammation or act as excitotoxins—chemicals that literally excite brain cells to death. Insufficient research has been done on the effects of blue dye in food.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ study 1 follows decades of other studies that showcase the many harms of food dyes and colors. A study published in the medical journal Prescrire International found that artificial food colours are linked to hyperactivity in children.3

While there are many possible factors involved in ADHD, clearly ingesting food colorus is a serious threat to children. Yet, regulators continue to do almost nothing to stop the rise in serious health conditions linked to food colours and other additives. The government currently allows 10,000 chemicals to be added to food in the United States under the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the 1938 Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. 1

Over 93 percent of these chemicals have never been tested for their potential dangers to humans. Instead, the government has used a system whereby chemicals are classified as GRAS or generally recognized as safe, when indeed few of the chemicals added to foods have ever even been explored for their safety. 1

The endocrine-disrupting effects of the additives found in food are of particular concern in early life, when developmental programming of organ systems is susceptible to permanent and lifelong disruption. The AAP authors also seek to raise awareness about the many chemicals indirectly added to food, namely the “adhesives, dyes, coatings, paper, paperboard, plastic, and other polymers, which may contaminate food as part of packaging or manufacturing equipment.”

Specifically, they discuss the bisphenols that line metal cans; phthalates used in the manufacturing process as adhesives, lubricants and plasticizers; and packaging chemicals such as perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) and perchlorate.

As a group, these chemicals have been associated with endocrine, neurodevelopmental and thyroid disruption, immunosuppression, low birth weight and other health issues. The endocrine-disrupting effects of the additives found in food are of particular concern in early life.4

Outside of the U.S., other countries are taking “a more precautionary approach,” such as in the European Union, which requires warning labels for food dyes.4 The AAP authors suggest that it is time to “come together” in the same way as other countries “to advocate for the protection of children’s health.”

At the risk of sounding sarcastic,
“You think??”


  1. Leonardo Trasande, Rachel M. Shaffer, Sheela Sathyanarayana, COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH. Food Additives and Child Health. Pediatrics July 2018
  1. Ten Thousand Chemicals in Food and Food Packaging: What Are These Substances Doing to Our Children? World Mercury Project Team.

Wednesday, August 29th 2018

  1. Artificial food colouring and hyperactivity symptoms in children. Prescrire Int. 2009 Oct;18(103):215.

Yan Song, Elizabeth L Chou et al. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, risk of type 2 diabetes, and diabetes-related metabolic traits: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Diabetes. 2015 Jun 29. Epub 2015 Jun 29.
Dan Hu, Yi-Xin Wang et al. Associations of phthalates exposure with attention deficits hyperactivity disorder: A case-control study among Chinese children. Environ Pollut. 2017 Oct; 229:375-385. Epub 2017 Jun 12
Cumulative risk assessment of phthalates associated with birth outcomes in pregnant Chinese women: A prospective cohort study. Environ Pollut. 2017 Mar ;222:549-556. Epub 2016 Dec 23.
5.Wendee Nicole. Secret Ingredients: Who Knows What’s in Your Food? Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Apr; 121(4): a126–a133.

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