June 27, 2014

New Rules Should Protect Quality of Baby Formula

Earlier this month, the FDA finalized new guidelines for manufacturers of infant formula in order to better protect babies from contaminated products. The move is a response to several prominent nationwide recalls of different formula products in the last several years.

As reported by MSN.com, in 2010, 5 million containers of Similac were recalled by Abbott Laboratories because they might have been contaminated by insect parts. In 2011, powdered versions of Enfamil, made by Mead Johnson Nutrition, were yanked from store shelves over concerns of contamination, which later proved unfounded.

Still, the red flag was raised, and now companies that make baby formula will be required to test for the presence of two kinds of bacteria, salmonella and cronobacter, that pose serious health risks to wee ones. They’ll also have to monitor their products for a longer period.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea and fever, sometimes to a life-threatening degree; cronobacter, which prefers dry environments such as powdered formula, can cause swelling of the brain — meningitis — in infants.

Most public health officials and medical professionals say breast milk is best for babies, but for various reasons of both necessity and convenience, many mothers don’t breast feed. So, many infants get all or part of their nutrition from formula.

Baby formula is not subject to FDA approval prior to sale. But all formula sold in the U.S. must meet federal nutrient requirements, and they do not change with the new regs. Infant formula manufacturers are required to register with FDA, and notify the agency before they market a new formula.

The FDA conducts yearly inspections of all facilities that manufacture infant formula. It collects and analyzes product samples, and inspects new facilities. If the feds determine that a formula presents a risk to human health, its manufacturer must conduct a recall.

The new requirements, according to the FDA, are meant to establish the "good manufacturing practices" that many companies voluntarily follow. These regulations establish federally enforceable standards for safety and quality.

They apply to formula sold "for use by healthy infants without unusual medical or dietary problems," said the FDA.

Under the new rules, companies must test their products' nutrient content and prove that the formulas can "support normal physical growth," the agency said. They must test the nutrient content in the final product stage, before entering the market and at the end of the products’ shelf life.

According to FDA, about 1 million U.S. infants are fed formula from birth; by the time they are three months old, about 2.7 million rely on formula for at least part of their nutrition.

Infant formula comes in three forms:


  • powder — the least expensive of the infant formulas, it must be mixed with water before feeding;

  • liquid concentrate — must be mixed with an equal amount of water;

  • ready-to-feed — the most expensive form of formula that requires no mixing.

The protein source varies among the different types of formula. The FDA’s nutrient specifications are set to meet the nutritional needs of average, healthy infants. Manufacturers use nutrient levels that usually exceed the FDA minimum. So babies fed infant formulas don’t need added nutrients unless they are fed a low-iron formula.

The formulas currently available in the U.S are either “iron-fortified” — with about 12 milligrams of iron per liter — or “low iron” — with about 2 milligrams of iron per liter. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that formula-fed infants be fed iron-fortified formula to help reduce the prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia.

To learn more about safety and infant formula, such as proper storage, visit the FDA website. To learn more about childhood nutrition, see our blogs on the topic.

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October 19, 2012

Is It Safe for Pregnant Women to Eat Fish?

Americans are conflicted about fish. Some of us like to catch them, some of us like to release them and many of us eat them. Health professionals say that fish is good for us (it’s high in protein, most varieties are low in fat and many have heart-healthy properties), that we should eat more. Others take care to note that some varieties of fish are particularly prone to toxic exposure to mercury.

So what’s a pregnant woman to do, especially in light of a new study that shows that a prospective mom’s fish-rich diet can offer protection against the child later developing behaviors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Especially in light of the Journal of the American Medical Association’s advice (JAMA) that for pregnant women, mothers who are breastfeeding and women of childbearing age, fish consumption is important for its DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that aids infant brain development?

The new study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, involved children born during the 1990s in Massachusetts; 515 women who had just given birth completed a dietary survey and about 420 provided samples of their hair for mercury testing. About eight years later, researchers tested the kids to assess behaviors associated with ADHD.

The results, as reported on ScienceNews.org, ranged from children with almost no ADHD-related behaviors to some with clear clinical disease. The mother’s hair-mercury level related to where her child fell along the spectrum.

The data, the researchers said, demonstrate that a woman can eat fish regularly, but also maintain a low-mercury diet. “It really depends on the type of fish that you’re eating,” one of the authors told ScienceNews. Some study participants had been eating more than two servings of fish weekly but tested for relatively little mercury.

Like lead, mercury is a potent neurotoxin that has been linked to many health problems, including delays in neural development. To see our post about the toxic nature of lead, click here.

In the study, children of women with hair mercury levels in the top 20 percent of those tested showed a 50 to 60 percent increased risk of ADHD-related behaviors. But the kids with ADHD-related traits “were still considered to be within the normal range,” the researcher said, “and not maladaptive.” (On some components of the childrens’ assessment for attention, boys showed a greater sensitivity to mercury than girls.)

Other studies have reached similar results. One based in Canada, according to ScienceNews, found an association between elevated mercury concentrations in children at birth and at school age, and an increased risk of ADHD by about age 11. That study also confirmed earlier evidence suggesting a link between lead and ADHD.

Some studies, however, indicate a genetic susceptibility to ADHD in some people. Environmental pollutants, too, are considered by some people to be risk factors. They include tobacco smoke and possibly polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), certain pesticides and bisphenol A (BPA).

The new study didn’t collect data on the species of fish the mothers ate. But its researchers said that previous studies have shown that tuna, swordfish and shark can be particularly high in mercury; salmon and cod tend to be relatively low in the toxic metal.

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December 9, 2011

Apple Juice for Kids: A Caution for Parents

We often take issue with careless, shallow and/or misleading media reports about health and safety issues. But in one high-profile case, the flashy TV doc got it right.

Consumer Reports investigated the claim of Dr. Mehmet Oz ("The Dr. Oz Show"), and found that, indeed, 1 in 10 of the juices tested contained more arsenic than is allowed in drinking water. One problem, investigators said, is that juice and similar beverages have no standards for arsenic content. Inorganic arsenic (that is, arsenic that does not occur naturally in some fruits) is carcinogenic. Lead content also was problematically high in many juices.

The EPA limits arsenic in drinking water to 10 parts per billion (ppb), and some health experts say that’s too high. According to AboutLawsuits.com, The FDA told Consumer Reports that it’s considering arsenic standards for juice. In September, the website reported, the FDA “believed apple juice consumption posed little or no risk, but since then it has received eight apple juice test samples with total arsenic levels of up to 45 ppb.”

Because arsenic and lead disproportionately damage smaller, growing brains, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises:


  • Don’t give infants younger than six months any kind of juice.

  • Limit juice for children 6 years and younger to six ounces a day.

  • Limit juice for children older than 6 years to 12 ounces a day.

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