Common Food Additives May Pose Health Risks to Children, AAP Says


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is warning in a new report that some common food additives and “indirect” additives may pose health risks to children and is calling for stronger federal food safety requirements.

AAP outlines ways families can limit exposure to common food additives that pose health risks to children

Growing evidence is showing that some chemicals found in food colorings, preservatives, and packaging materials may be harmful to the health of children, according to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The AAP report is urging the federal government to enact stronger food safety requirements and urgently making reforms to the regulatory process for food additives in the United States, reports.

Are the “generally recognized as safe” food additives still safe?

During the 1950s, many of the over 10,000 food additives allowed in the United States were grandfathered in from earlier times. Further, there are roughly 1000 additives that are used to preserve, repackage or modify the taste, appearance, texture, or nutrients in foods that are used under a “Generally Recognized As Safe” designation, meaning, they don’t require approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Artificial food colors: These may be associated with worsened attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Studies cited in the report found a significant number of children who cut synthetic food colorings from their diets showed decreased ADHD symptoms.

Nitrates/nitrites: Commonly used to preserve food and enhance color, especially in cured and processed meats and in hot dogs. These chemicals have been shown to interfere with thyroid hormone production and the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen in the body. Nitrates and nitrites also have been linked to cancers of the gastrointestinal and nervous systems.

“Indirect” additives

Besides additives directly added to food, there are a host of other “indirect” additives, according to the report, which raises concerns. These include chemicals that seep in from plastic, glues, dies, paper, cardboard, and other different types of coatings that are used in processing and packaging.

Bisphenols: One of the most common is BPA, which is used to harden plastic containers and line metal cans. BPA 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. Always look for plastic products labeled BPA-free.

Phthalates: Used to make plastic and vinyl tubes in industrial food production flexible. These 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 (PFCs): These are used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging. They may reduce immunity, birth weight, and fertility. Research has shown PFCs may affect the thyroid system, key to metabolism; digestion, muscle control, brain development, and bone strength.

Perchlorate: Often added to dry food packaging to control static electricity, has been known to disrupt thyroid function, early life brain development and growth.