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Reviewed by Hansa Bhargava on August 07, 2014


CDC. The New York Times: “Doctor Links a Man’s Illness to a Microwave Popcorn Habit,” Sep. 5, 2007. Philip Landrigan, MD; professor and chair, preventive medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine; director, Children’s Environmental Health Center.

© 2010 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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The controversy over the health safety of foods containing artificial additives doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon…

public health advocates are especially concerned over possible harmful effects these ingredients may have on school-aged children,

who are routinely tempted by a dizzying array of junk foods and sodas during their critical developing years:

There is increasing recognition that marketing to children is not such a great idea. And that kids are extremely susceptible to food marketing and that has to stop.

Studies to determine whether certain preservatives, dyes, artificial sweeteners and other enhancers present specific health risks are on-going…

Regardless of inconclusive findings, many experts view chemical additives with suspicion and urge consumers to use caution:

Over the years, several synthetic food additives have been banned from store shelves when a clear public health threat has been shown.

Perhaps the most noted case-- the 1969 removal of the artificial sweetener, cyclamate, after animal studies linked it to cancer.

Since the cyclamate controversy, other popular artificial sweeteners have fallen under scrutiny and many have been tested as possible carcinogens.

To date there is no irrefutable proof that any pose significant health threats to humans…

The same can be said for some additives in processed meats… Still, nitrates and artificial preservatives like BHA and BHT are looked upon unfavorably by many health experts.

As recently as 2007, microwave popcorn manufacturers were caught up in a controversy over the additive diacetyl, [DYE-AH-SEE-TIL] used to make artificial butter.

Though the compound is apparently safe for consumption,

scores of popcorn plant workers became ill and at least one consumer developed a rare lung disease because he made a habit of inhaling the popcorn's buttery aroma.

The real problem is quantity…

In spite of the unease over artificial additives, many nutritionists are more concerned that these types of foods tend to be low in crucial nutrients and fiber and high in sodium, fats and calories

and that they contribute to a disturbing trend of obesity in children.

You can't avoid processed foods completely. They're everywhere…the kids are confronted with them in many different venues,

but certainly children can be taught to minimize their use of processed foods… and also parents can work to create environments that reduce children's exposure to processed foods.

In some cases, parents have taken the initiative by insisting that school cafeterias serve up more nutritionally-sound options…

In places where parent have taken this action, guess what? The food is better and the kids are eating it.

For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.

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