DEA News
Return to News Home

Unregulated food additives could harm children, UW study says

The University of Washington is calling on the FDA to review more than 1,000 food additives 'generally recognized as safe' and to reform the food regulatory process.

Karina Mazhukhina, Komo News, Jul 31, 2018

The American Academy of Pediatrics is also backing the idea, urging congress to push the FDA to review these additives for their safety.

“The current regulatory process does not adequately protect children's health from these chemicals," said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a UW Medicine pediatrician and co-author of the study.

The U.S. allows more than 10,000 additives to be used in modifying taste or the appearance of food, many of which were grandfathered in during the 1950s. But, roughly 1,000 of those chemicals are proving to interfere with a child’s growth and development, Sathyanarayana said.

Below are some additives to watch out for, according to findings from the UW study.

Artificial food colors: Are common in children’s food products. Now, they may be associated with worsened attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Studies in the report found that kids who cut out synthetic food colorings from their diets had decreased ADHD symptoms.

Bisphenols (BPA): These chemicals are used to harden plastic containers and line metal cans. They can act like estrogen in the body and may alter the timing of puberty, slow fertility, increase body fat, and negatively impact the nervous and immune systems. Currently, BPA is banned in baby bottles and sippy cups.

Phthalates: These are found in plastic and vinyl tubes to make them flexible, and may now affect male genital development, increase childhood obesity, and contribute to cardiovascular disease. In 2017, the use of some phthalates in childcare products, like teething rings, were banned.

Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs): These chemicals are used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging, and now may reduce immunity, birth weight and fertility. They may also affect the thyroid system, metabolism, digestion, muscle control, brain development and bone strength.

Perchlorate: These food additives are added to some dry food packaging to help control static electricity. Now, it’s known to disrupt thyroid function, early life brain development and growth.

Nitrates / nitrites: Are used to preserve food and enhance color, specifically in cured and processed meats. These additives can interfere with thyroid hormone production and hinder blood from moving oxygen in the body. It has also been linked with gastrointestinal and nervous system cancers.

"The FDA is in a tough position," Sathyanarayana said. "They have authority to collect data on current chemicals that have been grandfathered in [for approved use] but they do not have authority to collect additional data on those chemicals that have the determination of 'generally recognized as safe.'”

Return to News Home