Common Industrial Chemicals and Their Effect on Children’s Health

In the last couple of years, the prevalence of disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and dyslexia has been increasing like never before.

While more sophisticated diagnoses and greater awareness about these disorders are somewhat also responsible for this increase, but research has shown that the changing environment in which children are growing up also has a role to play. The number of chemicals being added to foods today has skyrocketed, and there is now growing evidence that some common industrial chemicals in our diet can cause significant damage to children’s health. Let us take a look at the common industrial chemicals and how they are harming children’s health.

Common Industrial Chemicals and Their Effect on Children’s Health

There is a huge body of evidence that indicates that some of the commonly used industrial chemicals present in our foods are harming children’s health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently expressed concern that many of the industrial chemicals present in our foods can cause harm to a child’s health.

Accordingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that there should be an overhaul of the regulatory system governing food additives and preservatives. (1)

While several studies have shown that industrial chemicals may lead to obesity and cancer, there is a lack of research due to which stricter action cannot be taken against the use of these industrial chemicals.

The Academy had carried out a review of almost 4,000 common industrial chemicals used in the food and found that there was no research regarding the safety of 64 percent of these chemicals. (2) The conclusion that was derived was that millions of children are being exposed to these chemicals when we have no idea about what effect they have on their health.

Lack of Proper Regulation

The most significant regulatory oversight when it comes to the use of industrial chemicals in food is that the US Food and Drug Administration has a rule that simply allows the chemical manufacturers to determine the safety of these chemicals. There is no other regulatory oversight from any other agency.

Furthermore, even some commonly used chemicals that may be unsafe for use were approved by the Food and Drug Administration many years ago due to the use of outdated technologies.

This complete lack of regulation applies not only to chemicals that are added directly to foods, but also those that end up seeping into food items from glues, dyes, plastic, cardboard, and other types of coatings used in processing and packaging of food items.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, there are many health risks associated with these materials used in the processing and packaging of foods.(3) For example, there are so many risks associated with plastic that many people prefer giving their children lunch in metal lunch boxes.

Industrial Chemicals in Food To Watch Out For

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a policy statement titled ‘Food Additives and Child Health’ that warns about the harms of common industrial chemicals for children. (1) Some of the substances the Academy especially warns about include:

Bisphenols such as Bisphenol-A (BPA): Bisphenols tend to act like the female hormone estrogen and disrupt the process of puberty and fertility. (4) These chemicals are also known to increase body fat and lead to problems with the nervous system and the immune system. They can commonly be found in the lining of soda and food cans, plastic containers, cash register receipts, and many other places. Earlier, they were found in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups as well, but this has been banned by the Food and Drug Administration. Nevertheless, some of the older cups and bottles may still contain certain levels of BPA. (5, 6, 7)

Phthalates: These chemicals also act like hormones and interfere with the development of male genitals. (8) They also significantly increase the risk of heart disease and obesity. Phthalates can be found almost everywhere today! From plastic packaging to garden hoses and inflatable toys, phthalates are in everything. Even hairsprays, nail polish, fragrances, and lotions contain these chemicals. (9, 10)

Perchlorate: Perchlorate is a chemical that is known to disrupt the functioning of the thyroid hormone. (11) It can also interfere in early brain development in newborns. Perchlorate can commonly be found in dry food packaging, where it is used to reduce static electricity. It can also be found in some drinking water. (12)

Perfluoroalkyl Chemicals (PFCs): PFCs are known to cause babies with low birth weight. They are also associated with immune system problems, disruption of the thyroid gland, and have an effect on fertility. PFCs can be commonly found in cardboard packaging, grease-proof paper, and commercial household items such as non-stick pans, water-repellent fabric, and others. (13)

Nitrates and Nitrites: These industrial chemicals are known to also affect the thyroid, and they also harm the blood’s ability to transport oxygen throughout the body. They increase the risk of many cancers. These chemicals are commonly used to preserve food and to enhance certain food colors. Processed foods, such as meats, typically carry nitrates and nitrites. (14)

Artificial Food Colorings: Artificial food colors have been found to significantly boost the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Artificial food colors can be found in almost all types of food products, but they are especially present in certain food products marketed for children. (15)

Conclusion: How to Prevent Exposure to These Chemicals?

As these industrial chemicals are present almost everywhere, it is impossible to avoid them altogether. However, there are certain tips parents can follow to minimize the exposure of their children to these chemicals. These include:

  • Use more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Buy fewer processed meats and processed foods, especially during pregnancy
  • Heat causes plastics to leak out bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates into the food, so avoid microwaving foods and beverages in plastic containers.
  • Opt for washing plastics by hand instead of putting them in the dishwasher
  • Use more stainless steel and glass instead of plastic
  • Clean all fruits and vegetables thoroughly
  • Wash your hands properly both before and after touching food
  • Limit the intake of canned foods and beverages
  • Cut back on fast food
  • Opt for buying soaps, lotions and other cosmetics that are made naturally and are fragrance-free

References:

  1. Trasande, L., Shaffer, R.M. and Sathyanarayana, S., 2018. Food additives and child health. Pediatrics, 142(2), p.e20181410.
  2. HealthyChildren.org. (2020). Food Additives: What Parents Should Know. [online] Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Food-Additives.aspx [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].
  3. Cspinet.org. (2020). Food Additives | Center for Science in the Public Interest. [online] Available at: https://cspinet.org/topics/food-additives [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].
  4. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2020). Bisphenol A (BPA). [online] Available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/sya-bpa/index.cfm [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].
  5. Zhang, Y.F., Ren, X.M., Li, Y.Y., Yao, X.F., Li, C.H., Qin, Z.F. and Guo, L.H., 2018. Bisphenol A alternatives bisphenol S and bisphenol F interfere with thyroid hormone signaling pathway in vitro and in vivo. Environmental pollution, 237, pp.1072-1079.
  6. Al‐Hiyasat, A.S., Darmani, H. and Elbetieha, A.M., 2002. Effects of bisphenol A on adult male mouse fertility. European journal of oral sciences, 110(2), pp.163-167.
  7. Rahman, M.S., Kwon, W.S., Lee, J.S., Yoon, S.J., Ryu, B.Y. and Pang, M.G., 2015. Bisphenol-A affects male fertility via fertility-related proteins in spermatozoa. Scientific reports, 5, p.9169.
  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Phthalates. [online] Available at: https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/phthalates [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].
  9. Duty, S.M., Calafat, A.M., Silva, M.J., Ryan, L. and Hauser, R., 2005. Phthalate exposure and reproductive hormones in adult men. Human reproduction, 20(3), pp.604-610.
  10. Foster, P.M., 2006. Disruption of reproductive development in male rat offspring following in utero exposure to phthalate esters. International journal of andrology, 29(1), pp.140-147.
  11. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Perchlorate Questions and Answers. [online] Available at: https://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/chemicalcontaminants/ucm077572.htm [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].
  12. Lawrence, J., Lamm, S. and Braverman, L.E., 2001. Low dose perchlorate (3 mg daily) and thyroid function. Thyroid, 11(3), pp.295-295.
  13. US EPA. (2020). Basic Information on PFAS | US EPA. [online] Available at: https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].
  14. EWG. (2020). How to Avoid Added Nitrates and Nitrites in Your Food. [online] Available at: https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/20214/how-avoid-added-nitrates-and-nitrites-your-food#.W1Sg0xJKg-c [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].
  15. Harrington, R. (2020). Does Artificial Food Coloring Contribute to ADHD in Children?. [online] Scientific American. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-artificial-food-coloring-contribute-to-adhd-in-children/ [Accessed 18 Feb. 2020].

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