Pediatricians have issued a warning for parents: don’t microwave your kids‘ food in plastic. Doctors say chemicals in the plastic pose health risks to children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics say – in a statement published online – “that growing evidence that some chemicals found in food colorings, preservatives, and packaging materials may harm children’s health.”
The Academy says parents should take steps to minimize a child’s exposure to these chemicals, by buying minimally processed foods, and prioritizing vegetables and fruits in their diets.
The report also warns parents to avoid microwaving kids’ foods in plastic, or putting plastics – including baby bottles – in the dishwasher. The microwave or dishwasher can cause chemicals to leach out into kids’ foods.
Since heat can cause plastics to leak BPA and phthalates into food, avoid microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic when possible. Also try to avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher. Parents should use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.
Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless they are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware.”
Some additives are put directly in foods, while “indirect” additives may include chemicals from plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard, and different types of coatings used for processing and packaging. The additives of most concern, based on rising research evidence cited in the report, include:
- Bisphenols, such as BPA, used to harden plastic containers and line metal cans, can act like estrogen in the body and potentially change the timing of puberty, decrease fertility, increase body fat, and affect the nervous and immune systems. BPA is now banned in baby bottles and sippy cups.
- Phthalates, which makes plastic and vinyl tubes used in industrial food production flexible, may affect male genital development, increase childhood obesity, and contribute to cardiovascular disease. In 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of some phthalates in child-care products such as teething rings.
- Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs), used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging, may reduce immunity, birth weight, and fertility. Research also shows PFCs may affect the thyroid system, key to metabolism, digestion, muscle control, brain development, and bone strength.
- Perchlorate, added to some dry food packaging to control static electricity, is known to disrupt thyroid function, early life brain development and growth.
- Artificial food colors, common in children’s food products, may be associated with worsened attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Studies cited in the report found a significant number of children who cut synthetic food colorings from their diets showed decreased ADHD symptoms.
- Nitrates/nitrites are used to preserve food and enhance color, especially in cured and processed meats. These chemicals can interfere with thyroid hormone production and the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen in the body. Nitrates and nitrites also have been linked with gastrointestinal and nervous system cancers.
Potentially harmful effects of food additives are of special concern for children, according to the AAP. Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing.
Some of the AAP’s recommendations may require congressional action. For example, the FDA currently lacks the authority it needs to review existing data on additives already on the market, or to re-test their safety for people to eat. In meantime, the AAP recommends safe and simple steps families can take to limit exposures to the chemicals of greatest concern. These include:
- Buy and serve more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed meats–especially during pregnancy.
- Since heat can cause plastics to leak BPA and phthalates into food, avoid microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic when possible. Also try to avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher.
- Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.
- Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless they are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware.”
- Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching food and clean all fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.
“There is an urgent need for decision makers to fix this issue,” Dr. Trasande said, “starting by rolling back the presumption of safety for chemicals added to foods.”