May 19, 2016
2 min read

Rice cereal contributes to infant arsenic exposure

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Recent findings published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that eating rice cereal and other rice products can contribute to an infant’s arsenic exposure.

“Arsenic exposure through food, particularly rice and rice products, is a growing concern,” Margaret R. Karagas, PhD, in the department of epidemiology at Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth College, and colleagues wrote. “Rice from the United States has higher total arsenic concentrations reported than rice from other countries, but no statutory limits for arsenic exists for rice sold in the United States.”

Infant rice cereal “may contain” inorganic arsenic concentrations that exceed WHO recommendations, European Union limitations and the proposed FDA limit, the researchers wrote.

Karagas and colleagues used the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study to assess 759 infants from singleton births between 2011 and 2014. Mothers of the infants lived in households served by a private water system and had no plans to move during pregnancy. The researchers collected data on the infants’ rice intake at ages 4, 8 and 12 months via telephone interviews with parents. At 12 months, the parents (n = 129) also completed a 3-day food diary, and the researchers measured the infant’s total urinary arsenic as well as rice cereal arsenic using mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography.

The researchers determined that about 80% of infants ate rice cereal during their first year. Among infants whose parents submitted food diaries at 12 months, 32.6% ate rice snacks 2 days before urine samples were collected. Also at 12 months, infants who did not consume seafood and who ate rice cereal (9.53 µg/L) or rice products (4.97 µg/L) had mean urinary arsenic concentrations greater than those who did not eat rice or rice products (2.85 µg/L). The researchers reported that among nine infant rice snacks consumed during the study, mean arsenic concentrations ranged from 36.5 ng/g to 568.1 ng/g for green vegetable and strawberry puffed grain snacks, respectively.

The European Food Safety Authority Panel estimated that, per kilogram of body weight, children aged younger than 3 years eat two to three times more inorganic arsenic from food compared with adults.

“In addition to being more highly exposed to arsenic, children appear to be far more sensitive to the potential carcinogenic effects of arsenic and have a heightened risk for adverse growth, adverse immune response, and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes, even at relatively low levels of exposure,” Karagas and colleagues wrote. “Our results indicate that consumption of rice and rice products increases infants’ exposure to arsenic and that regulation could reduce arsenic exposure during this critical phase of development.” – by Will Offit

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.