Dietary intake of heavy metals by Finnish children on the decrease

6.11.2015

<p>The intake of heavy metals from food sources is lower for children than for their parents at the same age. A study conducted by Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira shows, however, that for part of children aged 1, 3 and 6 years the intake levels of heavy metals from food and drinking water still exceed safe levels according to the current opinion, because the intake levels considered safe for cadmium, lead and arsenic have been lowered since 2008.The best way to avoid the effects of potentially harmful substances contained in food is to follow a diverse diet. &nbsp;</p>

According to a risk assessment study carried out by Evira over several years, the exposure of children to heavy metals is not as high as previously estimated by the European Food Safety Authority EFSA.The study is based on food consumption data collected from the Pirkanmaa region and control samples of food.

Nevertheless, a considerable part of Finnish children still have a cadmium intake from food and drinking water that exceeds the safe level, although the exposure becomes smaller with age.And for some children, exposure to lead and arsenic is also above the safe limit.Exposure to mercury is on a safe level for almost all Finnish children.

”Today the intake of heavy metals from food sources is lower for children than for their parents at the same age.Lead content, for example, has decreased in food owing among other things to the shift to unleaded gasoline”, says Johanna Suomi, Senior Researcher, Docent, from the Risk Assessment Research Unit of Evira.

Combined effect studied for the first time

Harmful heavy metals accumulate in food from natural sources in the environment as well as from emissions caused by human activities.The most recent research shows that heavy metals are even more harmful than previously believed.Evira conducted a risk assessment to establish the exposure of Finnish children aged 1, 3 and 6 years to cadmium, lead, arsenic and mercury from food sources and drinking water.The combined effect of exposure to these heavy metals was also studied for the first time.

It is difficult to reduce exposure to cadmium and lead by avoiding a certain food group, because they are found in almost all food products.Grains are the most significant source of cadmium even though the cadmium levels are not usually very high in grains.In order to reduce exposure, the diet should contain different grain varieties.

No need for new recommendations

The risk assessment revealed that for children the main source of arsenic were rice-based foods.Rice need not be completely removed from the diet, but partial replacement of rice with, for example, other grain varieties and potato will reduce exposure.Evira still recommends that rice drinks are not used as the only drink for children under 6 years of age.Compliance with the current fish eating recommendation ensures a safe level of mercury exposure for children.Based on the risk assessment, Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira sees no need for new recommendations.

The Contaminants Regulation specifies maximum permitted levels of heavy metals for numerous food products.

”Legislative amendments have made it possible to cut down the intake of heavy metals from food.As a result, we can boast a high chemical safety level of food in Finland.We must continue to focus efforts on this development”, emphasises Senior Officer, PhD Marika Jestoi from Evira's Product Safety Unit.

Diverse diet reduces risks

The lack of a varied diet may become both a nutrition risk and a safety risk.A child's adequate intake of necessary nutrients can be guaranteed by a varied and diverse diet.

”And the more diverse the child's diet, the lower the risk of harmful intake of any individual heavy metals”, concludes Arja Lyytikäinen,who is the Secretary General of the National Nutrition Council.

Read more: 
Risk assessment of the exposure of Finnish children to heavy metals from food and drinking water
  
For more information, please contact:

Experts will be briefly available to the media on 6 November 2015 during the lunch break of the risk assessment seminar at ca. 12.10 - 12.25, and for interviews after the seminar at ca. 15.30 - 16.30.

Johanna Suomi, Senior Researcher, PhD, Risk Assessment Research Unit, tel. +358 40 822 5629
Marika Jestoi, Senior Officer, PhD, tel. +358 40 487 7798
Arja Lyytikäinen, Secretary General, National Nutrition Council, tel. +358 50 409 9860

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