1. Beal, Judy A. DNSc, RN, FNAP, FAAN

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In October 2019, Healthy Babies Bright Futures released an extensive report of a national study that tested 168 baby food products from 61 popular brands and showed that 95% of these foods contained heavy metals. Healthy Babies Bright Futures is a national nonprofit alliance of scientists and childcare advocacy groups committed to "creating and supporting initiatives that measurably reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals in the first thousand days of development" (Healthy Babies Bright Futures, 2019). Thirteen different types of baby food were tested including puffs and other snacks, teething biscuits, rice and nonrice cereals, purees (vegetables, fruits, vegetable and fruit mixes, meat, meat and vegetable mixes), infant formula, apple juice, 100% fruit juices, and other infant drinks including bottled water.


The baby food was purchased from 15 retail chains in 14 major cities in the United States. Two nationally recognized laboratories with expertise in heavy metal analysis were commissioned to test the baby foods for arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, and for an additional neurotoxin perchlorate. Major findings reported and recommendations made (Healthy Babies Bright Futures, 2019) include:


* At least one toxic heavy metal was found in 95% of foods tested. One in four tested contained all four of the heavy metals. The five highest risk groups of foods are rice or puff snacks, teething biscuits, rice cereal, fruit juice, and root vegetables.


* Rice-based products including puff snacks and cereals and fruit juices contained the highest amounts of toxic metals.


* Babies are exposed daily, with impact to health, especially brain development. Previous research has shown that all these heavy metals are neurotoxins that can impact intellectual capacity and behavioral problems. Scientific evidence from decades of research is detailed in the report appendices.


* Recommended limits are often exceeded. Arsenic exceeded FDA guidance in four of the seven rice cereals tested and 83% of foods tested exceeded recommendations by public health experts for lead.


* Many of the most popular baby foods estimated to pose the greatest risks lack specific limits for heavy metals.


* Exposures and impacts accumulate, increasing urgency for action.



Concern about toxic heavy metals in infant foods is not new. Scientists, pediatric providers, childcare advocacy groups, food and agricultural experts, and even baby food producers point to the long-term use of pesticides in farmlands in the United States and worldwide. Although arsenic and lead are no longer components of pesticides, their remnants continue to contaminate soil where food products are grown. Charlotte Brody, a registered nurse and research director for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, noted that the healthiest change parents can make is to steer clear of rice in all its forms. She advised to use snacks and cereals that contain different kinds of grains, such as oatmeal and instead of rice teething biscuits, use frozen fruits like bananas or strawberries to soothe sore gums. Other suggestions include using basmati or white rice that contains less arsenic; cooking rice in extra water; giving filtered tap water rather than fruit juice; and limiting root vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes that absorb more heavy metals from soil than other vegetables (Healthy Babies Bright Futures, 2019).


Pediatric nurses can play a vital role in addressing this issue in several ways. The report specifically addresses all test results and helpful tables that specify how to decrease exposure to heavy metals (Healthy Babies Bright Futures, 2019). It can be shared with parents. Choosing lower-risk alternatives for the five highest risk groups (rice or puff snacks, teething biscuits, rice cereal, fruit juice, and root vegetables) can reduce risk by 80% (Branch, 2019). Nurses can serve as powerful advocates to address "the urgent need for the United States Food and Drug Administration to set a goal of no detectable levels of these heavy metals in baby and children's food and to set incremental targets for industry to meet" (Branch). Review the report and be prepared to discuss with parents.




Branch J. (2019). Most baby foods contain arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals, study finds. Consumer Reports Online. Retrieved from[Context Link]


Healthy Babies Bright Futures. (2019). What's in my baby's food? Charlottesville, VA. Retrieved from[Context Link]