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Baby Formula May Increase a Child's Risk of Obesity and Autism

In one study, two of three formula samples contained mercury in concentrations over 120 times above the allowable weekly limits.

Photo Credit: Evgeniy Agarkov/Shutterstock

The following excerpt is from the book Unsafe At Any Meal: What The FDA Does Not Want You To Know About The Foods You Eat, by Dr. Renee Dufault (Square One Publishers, 2017)

Baby Formula and Obesity, Autism and ADHD

Scientists have reported in recent medical journal articles that babies that consume formula are at higher risk of becoming obese. In the U.S., infant obesity is considered to be an epidemic by the government. Recent estimates indicate that 8.1 percent of American infants and toddlers are obese. What is even more disturbing and controversial is the finding that formula feeding may significantly increase a child’s risk of autism. You may wonder what food ingredients found in infant formula might contribute to obesity or autism. Figure 6.1 below is a reproduction of a food ingredient label for an infant formula that I found available for purchase in a supermarket.

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Many baby formulas, such as this one, contain corn sweetener in the form of corn syrup or corn syrup solids. Some formulas contain more corn sweetener than any other ingredient! I found one baby formula product in my local grocery store with a food ingredient label that claimed 54 percent of the product was made up of corn syrup solids and 26 percent of the product consisted of assorted vegetable oils. With many baby formulas consisting of this mixture of sugars and fats, it is no wonder that babies fed on formula are at a higher risk of becoming obese.

The baby formula pictured on page 106 and many other formulas contain multiple vegetable oils. Remember from Chapter 4 that vege­table oils are among the food ingredients that are at risk of inorganic mercury contamination. Exposure to this heavy metal can affect the PON1 and metallothionein gene expressions.

Below is a table of common ingredients found in infant formula and the heavy metal(s) with which each ingredient can potentially be contaminated.

This table of baby formula ingredients is not all-inclusive. I studied the food ingredient labels of only six different formula products. There could be other risky ingredients; there are many more producers out there making baby formula.

You may now be wondering: Have scientists determined the ­levels of heavy metals in infant or baby formula? The answer is yes. Numerous studies have been conducted by scientists all over the world to determine the level of heavy metal contaminants in baby formula. Some very recent studies have identified higher than allowable levels of mercury in baby formula. In one study, two of three formula samples contained mercury in concentrations over 120 times above the allowable weekly limits. The researchers, based in the Philippines, warned of the possible direct or cumulative effects of these mercury exposures on infant health.

In another study, two of three infant formulas were again found to contain mercury in concentrations above the allowable weekly intake. These researchers were based in Libya and they published their results in 2015. In a third study, published in 2012, researchers in the European Union obtained formula samples from twenty-four different formula makers and found that while lead levels were within the “safety limits,” mercury levels were not. These scientists, based in Germany, warned the mercury accumulation occurring in some formula-fed infants would be higher than the established weekly tolerable intake. Canadian researchers also investigated mercury levels in baby formula and found clear cases of mercury contamination in powdered formula. The Canadian researchers discovered one brand of concentrated liquid infant formula had significantly higher mercury levels than other liquid brands.

The only study published in the U.S. on heavy metal contami­nation of baby food or infant formula was conducted by FDA researchers, and they only looked at arsenic contamination in products made from rice, as well as fruits and vegetables. In Portugal, researchers determined statistically significant differences for mercury content between processed organic and conventional baby cereal products. Apparently, organic baby food contained less mercury than conventional baby food. No surprise finding there, as organic food is produced with no synthetic pesticides.

To minimize her baby’s heavy metal exposure and risk of obesity, a mother could opt to eat a healthy, organic, whole-foods diet and breastfeed. A study found that babies fed only formula or fed a combination of breast milk and formula are more likely to become obese compared with babies who are only breastfed. The age at which breastfeeding stops and formula is introduced also appears to be a key determinant of obesity risk throughout childhood, adolescence, and even young adulthood. Numerous scientists are therefore recommending to new mothers that they exclusively breastfeed for at least six months to protect their infants from becoming obese or autistic. Sometimes, there are situations in which mothers are unable to breastfeed. I advise any mother who is feeding formula to her baby to buy and use an organic brand to minimize the baby’s heavy metal exposure.


 

 

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Dr. Renee Joy Dufault has served as an Environmental Health Officer for the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. In 2010, she founded the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute (FIHRI). She hold a B.S. degree in Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning from the University of California, Davis, and a doctorate in Health Education.