Plastic and Processed Meat Endangers Children, Warns American Academy of Pediatrics

Increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables will help to reduce exposure to dangerous chemicals.

plastic and processed meat endangers children, warns american academy of pediatrics
Credit: Image via Unsplash/Daiga Ellaby

New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urge parents to avoid excessively exposing young children to several types of chemicals including those in plastic food containers and in processed meats. The group, which represents 67,000 of the nation’s pediatricians, said increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods would help to reduce exposure to dangerous chemicals linked to metabolic and endocrine disorders.

AAP specifically pointed to nitrates and nitrites, commonly found in cured meat products, and phthalates, used in plastic packaging, as well as bisphenol-A and bisphenol-S, also found in plastic, can linings, and in some cash register receipt paper. The group also warned against exposure to perfluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFCs, found in some take-out food packaging such as pizza boxes.

A number of these chemicals have been linked to serious health conditions including rising rates of obesity and type-2 diabetes among the nation’s children. Some of the chemicals, such as nitrites and nitrates, have also been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer.

“The good news is there are safe and simple steps people can take right now to limit exposures, and they don’t have to break the bank,” Dr. Leonardo Trasande, the lead author of the statement and chief of the division of environmental pediatrics at New York University’s School of Medicine, told the New York Times.

“Avoiding canned food is a great way to reduce your bisphenol exposure in general, and avoiding packaged and processed food is a good way to avoid phthalates exposures,” Dr. Trasande said.

The warning comes as researchers out of the University of California, San Francisco, and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found a startling number of chemicals in the blood of pregnant women. The chemicals, called environmental organic acids (EOAs), have been linked to endocrine system damage in fetuses. The researchers noted they may put unborn children at a greater risk of genetic defects, fetal damage, and some forms of cancer.

The researchers also noted the presence of estrogenic compounds related to plastic exposure and one chemical banned from dietary supplements but still used in a number of applications including cosmetics, pesticides, and as a coloring agent, the Times noted.

“Because hormones act at low concentrations in our blood, it is not surprising that even low-level exposures to endocrine disruptors can contribute to disease,” Laura N. Vandenberg, an assistant professor in the department of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s School of Public Health, who spoke on behalf of the Endocrine Society, told the Times.

The warning comes as childhood obesity has skyrocketed since the 1970s, with one in five children between ages 6 and 19 now classified as clinically obese. There are other markers for excessive chemical exposure: higher rates of type 1 and type 2 diabetes as well as an increase in developmental disorders.

The AAP not only made recommendations to decrease exposure, but the group also criticized the FDA’s regulatory process in regard to chemicals “generally recognized as safe.” It said the FDA fails to ensure the safety of a number of existing and new chemicals entering the market through its current review process.

Among its recommendations, AAP suggested doctors and families take steps to boost the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid exposure to plastic food containers, being particularly mindful to avoid microwaving or heating plastic including containers of pumped breast milk. The AAP also noted that pregnant women should avoid processed meat during pregnancy.

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