The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a first look at organic foods for children

Parents know it’s important for children to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. But it’s less clear whether spending the extra money on organic foods will provide any significant benefit to the health of their children.

To offer guidance to parents — and pediatricians caring for their children’s health — the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) conducted an extensive review of the scientific evidence surrounding organics, dairy, and meat. The conclusion is mixed: Although organic foods contain the same vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, fats and other nutrients as conventional foods, they also have lower levels of pesticides, which may be important for children. Animals raised organically are also less likely to become infected with drug-resistant bacteria, as organic farming rules prohibit the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics.

However, over the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that eating an organic diet improves health or lowers the risk of disease. No large studies in humans have been done that specifically address this issue.

“What is most important is that children eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whether conventional or organic foods. This type of diet has proven health benefits,” said Janet Silverstein, MD, FAAP, member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and one of the report’s lead authors. “Many families have a limited food budget, and we don’t want families to choose to eat smaller amounts of more expensive organic foods and thereby reduce their overall intake of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.”

The AAP report, “Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages,” was released Oct. 22 at the AAP National Conference and Expo in New Orleans. It will be published in the November 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online October 22). The report outlines research that has been done on organic feeds, including compelling evidence of lower exposure to pesticides and less contamination of livestock with drug-resistant bacteria.

“At this point, we simply don’t have the scientific evidence to know whether the difference in pesticide levels will impact a person’s health over their lifetime, although we do know that children – in especially young children with developing brains — are especially vulnerable to chemical exposures,” said Joel Forman, MD, FAAP, member of the AAP Council on Environmental Health and one of the lead authors of the clinical report from the PAA.

If cost is a factor, families can be selective in choosing organic foods, Dr. Forman said. Some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables tend to contain less pesticide residue. The AAP cites organic buying guides like those provided by Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group as references for consumers. The AAP found no individual health benefit to buying organic milk, but stresses that all milk should be pasteurized to reduce the risk of bacterial infections. Raw milk increases the risk of serious infection with bacteria, especially Salmonella, E.coli, Listeria, Campylobacter and Tweezer.

Purchasing meat from organic farms that do not use antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes has the potential to reduce antibiotic resistance in bacteria that infect humans. The AAP calls for large, well-designed prospective cohort studies that directly measure environmental exposures such as estrogen at low levels to understand the impact of hormonal exposure of children through milk and meat.

The AAP report also notes that the motivation to choose organic, meat and dairy products may reasonably be based on broader environmental issues, as well as human health impacts such as pollution and global climate change. .

“Paediatricians want families to have the information they need to make wise food choices,” Dr. Forman said. “We hope that further research will improve our understanding of these issues, including large studies that measure environmental exposures and neurodevelopment.”

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Material provided by American Academy of Pediatrics. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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