Parents are always concerned about the food that their toddlers are fed and the effect that it has on their bodies. Many parents try to ensure that they are not consuming any substances that cause them short or long-term damage. One of the main concerns is that baby food can have a negative effect on the baby’s brain development. If there are certain toxins in the food, it can impact the critical progression necessary for brain development. Now, many parents are concerned about the results of a recent FDA study that has shown that many baby foods contain some levels of dangerous substances.
The primary result of this study is that 95 percent of baby foods contain some levels of lead and arsenic. Other baby foods tested positive for mercury and cadmium. These chemicals have the ability to decrease the baby’s IQ and impact their behavior. This study was not the first of its kind. A prior investigation by the FDA showed that these harmful substances were found in 33 of the 39 foods that were tested.
In general, studies have documented the effects that arsenic has on children and their IQ. One study detailed the impact that tainted drinking water in Bangladesh had on children. For every 50 percent increase in the level of arsenic, children between the ages of five and 15 lost nearly half an IQ point.
Parents cannot feel assured that some of the amounts of these substances in the food were extremely small. Even trace amounts of these chemicals can have significant impacts on developing children. Once these toxic substances are present, the amount of them in the bloodstream and bodies continues to build, having an impact as the amount increases. Dozens of studies that have been published this decade all confirm the same result.
Part of the issue stems from the FDA’s lack of regulation and standards in the area. The agency has proposed certain limits on the levels of lead and arsenic in food, but many of these regulations have not been finalized. In fact, the FDA has recently reduced the amount of new regulations that it proposes and implements. While the FDA has tested for these substances, it has done little to act on the root cause of the problem. In other words, although they have been researching this issue for a decade, they have done hardly anything when it comes to fixing the problem.
The alarming part of this study is that many of the categories of food that were tested do not have an enforceable limit for the hazardous chemicals. In other words, there are no FDA regulations or guidelines for what is allowable in baby food. In fact, only apple juice and infant rice cereal had any type of regulatory constraints that limit the levels of these chemicals.
Among the foods that were tested, the biggest problems have been found with rice-based baby foods. These foods, while popular among parents, generally test the highest for arsenic. Arsenic is generally found in the soil and water. Rice grows in water, causing it to absorb the levels of arsenic in the water. When the rice is harvested and milled, the process is insufficient to entirely remove the rice of the arsenic that it has absorbed from the water. Even organic rice baby foods still have high levels of arsenic, posing the same exact dangers.
The study measured the foods in terms of IQ points lost from each type of baby food. Rice baby foods scored the highest on this list, accounting for ten percent of the total IQ loss. Milk was the second most contaminated food consumed by babies, making up eight percent of the total harm. Milk is also tainted with arsenic on occasion.
Parents can lower their children’s risk of impeded brain development by choosing different types of foods for their children. Beyond avoiding baby food products that contain rice, parents can choose food that has a lower potential of containing any type of lead or arsenic. For example, food that is made out of vegetables other than carrots or potatoes will have a lower potential of containing arsenic or lead.
If parents eliminate rice-based foods from their infant’s diet, they can reduce the level of arsenic that their child is exposed to by over 90 percent. Forgoing teething biscuits and rice rusks will also cut arsenic exposure by 90 percent. Parents should familiarize themselves with some of the riskier food and either reduce or stop consumption entirely. Parents will need to think differently than conventional wisdom in changing their child’s diet because rice-based foods have been a staple of infants’ diets for decades.
In the meantime, the FDA will need to take some sort of action to better regulate toxins in baby food. The regulatory process often takes years from the time a rule is proposed until the time that it is finalized, so the FDA will need to act quickly in response to the results of this study. Children’s advocates have issued calls for regulatory action to protect children from this harm.
The FDA has already proposed guidelines for arsenic limits in rice-based cereal, but that effort has stalled since 2018. The FDA has begun work towards a Toxic Elements Working Group in order to create regulations in the modern diet for children. Many existing regulations are geared towards the past when infants perhaps were fed differently. The FDA has taken the first step in the process but needs to act in a quicker fashion to address this prevalent problem.