AAP: no obvious advantage for organic food

NEW ORLEANS — While there may be some reasons to choose organically grown foods, there is a lack of evidence showing the health benefits or harms of an organic diet, and generally no difference of nutritional content based on biological status, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The most important message for parents is that their children should eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whether they are “organic” or not, said Joel Forman, MD, pediatrician at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. from New York. City and a member of the AAP Council on Environmental Health, said during a press briefing at the academy’s annual meeting here.

  • A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics finds little evidence of clinically relevant or significant differences in nutritional content between conventional and organic products; the authors point out that it is much more important for children to have a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • The report says there are some potential benefits of following an organic diet, including a lighter environmental impact from organic farming, less exposure to pesticides and potentially less exposure to drug-resistant pathogens, but the evidence is not there. are not there to support any meaningful change. the impact of these benefits on children’s health.

Forman said there are some potential benefits to following an organic diet, including lighter environmental impact from organic farming, less exposure to pesticides, and potentially less exposure to drug-resistant pathogens, but that the evidence does not are not there to support any impact on children’s health. Forman was a lead author of the report, which was published online ahead of the November issue of Pediatrics.

“It’s complicated,” he said. “There are potential benefits for organic produce and meats, but [the] the health benefits of healthy eating are very well proven and we need to do it first. And then be choosy – when you can – to go organic when your wallet can handle it and when it makes sense when you get the most bang for your buck. »

For example, he said, conventionally grown corn contains very low levels of pesticides, and buying more expensive organic corn wouldn’t make much difference. Conventionally grown apples, on the other hand, tend to have higher levels of pesticides, and buying organic would reduce exposure.

“It’s those kinds of choices that we try to encourage people to make,” he said, adding that consumer reports and the Environmental Working Group have resources detailing the pesticide content of various foods.

Organic food is a growing market. Citing the Organic Trade Association, the report’s authors noted that the U.S. organic food market grew from $3.5 billion in 1996 to $28.6 billion in 2010.

To provide pediatricians with a resource to discuss the pros and cons of organic foods, Forman and colleagues reviewed the scientific literature.

They determined that eating organic foods resulted in less exposure to pesticides, although it’s unclear whether this makes a clinically meaningful difference in terms of children’s health.

But “we think it’s possible,” Forman said, citing studies of pregnant farm workers that showed increased exposure to pesticides was linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in offspring.

“We think there’s a fair amount of evidence that the differences could be significant, albeit in a very small way,” Forman said.

According to the report, eating organic also potentially reduces exposure to drug-resistant bacteria, which are more likely to grow in non-organic livestock fed low-dose antibiotics to enhance growth.

And environmental impact is lessened on organic farms through reduced consumption of fossil fuels and less environmental contamination from pesticides and herbicides.

Overall, the evidence points to a lack of a meaningful nutritional difference between organic and conventional foods, but Forman noted a few caveats.

Studies exploring the question are difficult to perform and are full of confounding factors, he said, including humidity, rainfall, temperature and soil where the food is grown, when the food is harvested and what instruments are used to measure the nutrient of interest. .

For milk specifically, there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to buying organic, Forman said. Concerns about exposure to bovine growth hormone in conventional milk are unfounded because it is not biologically active in humans and what little there is in milk is mostly broken down during the process. of pasteurization. Additionally, estrogen levels in milk are very low and comparable between organic and conventional milk.

There is currently insufficient evidence to determine whether organic food leads to improved or worse health outcomes or changes disease risk. Forman said large, long-term studies in humans to address this issue would be difficult to achieve, although there are ongoing prospective studies looking at a variety of exposures that could help answer the question.


All authors have filed conflict of interest declarations with the American Academy of Pediatrics. All conflicts were resolved through a process approved by the AAP Board of Directors. The AAP said it neither sought nor accepted any commercial involvement in the development of the report’s content.

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