The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a set of guidelines in both a statement and report that urged parents and others responsible for children's health to beware of the chemicals in many common foods and food packaging that are damaging our kids' health. This warning includes scientific evidence showing that specific chemicals in foods and food containers may have a negative impact on hormones and child development and growth.
More specifically, the AAP is asking adults to reduce the amount of processed meat consumed during pregnancy, increase the amount of whole fruit and vegetables eaten, and to limit the use of plastic food containers for both storage and heating of foods. These food-related activities all can interfere with the body's natural hormone levels and throw them into havoc. At the same time, all of the aforementioned steps can help reduce children's exposure to chemicals in food and food packaging.
How are we harming our children?
The AAP has pointed out that many of the thousands of chemicals added to or used in the processing of food are making their way into our diet either directly or via packaging. Some of those chemicals include nitrates, nitrites, phthalates, bisphenols, perfluoroalkyls, and percholates. Don't expect to see these dangerous ingredients listed on food packaging, but that doesn't mean they are not lurking in your kids' (and our) food supply.
Although each individual exposure to these chemicals may be minute, the danger lies in the accumulated effect. Another worry is that infants and toddlers are especially susceptible to the impact of these chemicals on their health because they consume more food per pound of body weight than adults.
When these substances make contact with a child's organ and metabolic systems, which are still developing, the effect on hormones can be significant. In fact, low exposure to hormone disrupting factors can contribute to disease by interfering with normal hormone function. Several consequences of this disruption appears to be a high incidence of obesity among today's young people and a rise in developmental disorders. A new report in Pediatrics noted that "in some cases, exposure to these chemicals is disproportionate among minority and low-income populations."
According to Food and Drug Administration spokesperson Megan McSeveney, the agency "is not able to ensure the safety of existing or new additives through this approval mechanism," which refers to the FDA's designation of food additives as "generally recognized as safe." She noted that the FDA's definition of safety means "there is reasonable scientific certainty that the substance is not harmful when used as intended."
Making better food choices for kids
The good news is you can significantly reduce your kids' exposure to these dangerous chemicals by instituting a few simple habits. It is best if the entire family incorporates these dietary modifications, not only to help children reduce the impact of substances, but also to demonstrate a willingness of parents to fight for the health of their children.
- Avoid canned, processed, and packaged foods, especially during pregnancy.
- Use wraps made from beeswax instead of plastic wrap if you must wrap foods.
- Make fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables a primary focus of your daily food consumption.
- Choose organic foods whenever possible.
- Allow children to participate in the preparation of their snacks and meals whenever possible, including growing some of their own fruits and vegetables.
Making better food choices for kids is completely doable and involves making a few simple adjustments to how you shop for and prepare food. When you do, you will be protecting not only your children but your entire family's health.
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