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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Genuis

Concern about common food additives

I was delighted to see a policy statement out from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in July. Their association is the representative of pediatricians across America, so they speak with a loud and powerful voice.

Their paper was calling on the government to increase the oversight and regulation of numerous food additives. In the United States there are over 10,000 additives approved for preserving food. Many of them have been associated with various adverse health outcomes including impaired brain development, altered reproductive functions, decreased immunity and altered thyroid function. It is refreshing to see these chemicals being highlighted as an area of potential concern requiring greater attention.

In particular, the policy highlights 6 categories of chemicals.

  • Bisphenols (such as BPA, BPS etc.)

  • Phthalates

  • Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs)

  • Perchlorate

  • Artificial food colours

  • Nitrates/nitrites

Unless a person is carefully and intentionally avoiding these chemicals, it is almost certain that they will be exposed to them. A study looking at blood from newborn babies' umbilical cords showed that exposure to many of these chemicals is pervasive (for instance, 90% of infants tested positive for BPA).

We know that the developing baby is significantly more sensitive to environmental chemicals than even the toddler, and certainly more than the teenager or adult. Many chemicals pass from the mother through the placenta during pregnancy. Often times mom will not notice any negative effect on her own health, but in a developing child whose cells are rapidly, even small exposures can make a big difference.

In preconception care, a precautionary approach always makes sense. Once there are indicators that a substance may be of harm, it is worth avoiding it as much as possible in the preconception and prenatal period. For all of the substances mentioned in this policy statement there is a substantial body of research supporting the position of the AAP. It is crucial that women and men who are planning a conception in the near future be apprised of this information.

As research continues to be translated into clinical practice, it is my hope that we will see greater action to prevent these "everyday chemicals" from contibuting to the high levels of childhood and chronic disease we face as a society.

Trasande, L., Shaffer, R. M., & Sathyanarayana, S. (2018). Food Additives and Child Health. Pediatrics, 142(2). doi:10.1542/peds.2018-1408


BPA and other Cord Blood Pollutants. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Trasande, L., Shaffer, R. M., & Sathyanarayana, S. (2018). Food Additives and Child Health. Pediatrics, 142(2). doi:10.1542/peds.2018-1408


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