News article

Excessive Vitamins And Minerals In Food Put Millions Of Children At Risk

Posted:  Monday, June 30, 2014

Nearly half of American kids age eight and younger consume potentially harmful amounts of vitamin A, zinc and niacin because of excessive food fortification, outdated nutritional labelling rules and misleading marketing tactics used by food manufacturers, according to a new report released by the Environmental Working Group, a national environmental health research and advocacy organization. The detailed report focuses on two food categories that are frequently fortified — breakfast cereals and snack bars, identifying 141 over-fortified products.

A walk down the supermarket cereal aisle will reveal dozens of fortified products from major brands aimed at parents wanting to improve their children’s health.

Because smaller bodies are less able to process excessive amounts, they are more susceptible to overdose.

Too much of some forms of vitamin A can lead to liver damage and skeletal problems.

EWG’s report found that cereals and snack bars “often” contain excessive amounts of vitamin A, zinc, sometimes in amounts considered unsafe for children by the American Institute of Medicine.

Analysing more than 1550 cereals and 1000 snack bars, EWG researchers found 114 cereals fortified with 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc and/or niacin. They include General Mills Total Raisin Bran, General Mills Wheaties Fuel, Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies and Kellogg’s Krave, among others. EWG also found that 27 common brands of snack bars, such as Balance Bars, Kind bars and Marathon bars, were fortified with 50 percent or more of the adult Daily Value of at least one of these 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 Renee Sharp, EWG’s research director and co-author of the report, How Much is Too Much? “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.”

High doses of vitamin A can cause toxic symptoms and lead to liver damage, skeletal abnormalities and hair loss. Excessive levels of zinc can impair copper absorption, negatively affect red and white blood cells and impair immune function. During pregnancy, taking too much vitamin A can result in developmental abnormalities in the foetus. Older adults with high vitamin A intake have been known to suffer from osteoporosis and hip fractures.

“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 Olga Naidenko, Ph.D, an EWG research consultant and co-author of the report. “But he or she would most likely be wrong, since the Daily Values are based on an adult’s dietary needs.”

The experts suggested: Eat real food. "They should eat food, and highly processed foods are not recommended under any circumstances," experts say. "Most fortifying vitamins are only added to processed foods, which are foods high in sugar, salt and fat. If people are eating healthy diets and real foods, they are probably getting enough vitamins."