Are Kids Getting Too Much Of A Good Thing When It Comes To Fortified Breakfast Cereal?
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
In reaction to widespread nutritional deficiency illnesses in the first part of the 20th century, cereal makers began adding essential vitamins and minerals to their products around 1940.
Now, a new report from the health research and advocacy organization Environmental Working Group has found that popular breakfast cereals are exposing developing and very young children to excessive levels of vitamin A, zinc and other nutrients.
“Heavily fortified foods may sound like a good thing, but it when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels could actually cause short or long-term health problems,” said report author Renee Sharp, a research director at EWG. “Manufacturers use vitamin and mineral fortification to sell their products, adding amounts in excess of what people need and more than might be prudent for young children to consume.”
The advocacy group noted that high doses of vitamin A could have toxic effects and cause liver problems, skeletal irregularities and hair thinning. The EWG added that excessive amounts of zinc can damage copper absorption in the body, impair both types of blood cells and disrupt the immune system. Pregnant women taking too much vitamin A can bring about developmental abnormalities in the fetus. Seniors with high vitamin A intake have been known to have problems with osteoporosis and hip fractures, the group said.
The newly-released report heavily criticized the federal Daily Values for most vitamins and minerals, which may date back to 1968. The group said these values were calculated for adults, not children – resulting in nutrient amounts in products that are much higher than necessary for children.
The report authors noted packaging that states a product has “added vitamins” only compounds the nutritional problem.
“In other words, when a parent picks up a box of cereal and sees that one serving provides 50 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A, he or she may think that it provides 50 percent of a child’s recommended intake,” said report author Olga Naidenko, an EWG research consultant. “But he or she would most likely be wrong, since the Daily Values are based on an adult’s dietary needs.”
The report’s analysis of nearly 1,600 cereal labels and over 1,000 breakfast bars revealed that 114 cereals contained 30 percent or more of the recommended level of intake for vitamin A, zinc and/or niacin. The report also found 23 cereals with at least one nutrient in amounts “much greater” than the amounts considered safe for children age 8 and under by the National Academy of Sciences.
According to USA Today reporter Michelle Healy, Kellogg spokesperson Kris Charles responded to the report by categorizing it as incomplete.
“The report ignores a great deal of the nutrition science and consumption data showing that without fortification of foods such as ready-to-eat cereals, many children would not get enough vitamins & minerals in their diets,” Charles said in a statement. “Less than 2 percent of all cereals assessed by EWG made their ‘Top 23’ list and the vast majority of these are adult-oriented cereals not regularly consumed by children.”
The Food and Drug Administration is currently accepting feedback on recommended variations to the Nutrition Facts labels and the EWG said the FDA should demand labels on products marketed to children show percent Daily Values particular to each age group, such as 1-to-3-year-olds and 4-to-8-year- olds.