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Rice Products Contribute to Infants’ Arsenic Exposure: Study

New research suggests that a common staple of many babies’ diets may cause many infants to have high levels of arsenic in their urine, suggesting that there need to be more efforts to reduce the levels of arsenic infants are exposed to through rice cereal and snacks. 

Rice cereal is one of the first foods many infants receive, and is a common ingredient in many baby foods and snacks. Given concerns about arsenic in infant rice products, researchers set out to examine how widely babies are exposed to arsenic in a study recently published by the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, studied the amount inorganic arsenic found in an infant’s urine to determine how much of an infant’s diet contains arsenic.

Dietary and arsenic data was obtained on 79% of more than 950 infants who participated in the study. About 80% of the infants were introduced to rice cereal during their first year, 33% were fed rice snacks by 12 months.

Among the infants in the study, total urinary inorganic arsenic concentrations were higher among infants who ate infant rice cereal at 9.53 mg/L compared to the 2.85 mg/L of those who did not eat rice or rice products. Infants who ate rice snacks had urinary concentrations of arsenic of 4.97 mg/L.

Earlier this month the FDA proposed new limits for the levels of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. The long awaited move called for no more than 100 parts per billion (ppb) in infant rice cereal. The level was determined after the findings of a 2016 FDA risk assessment revealed 78% of infant rice cereal tested had between 100 and 110 ppb of arsenic.

The new research also revealed rice snacks contained between 36 and 568 ng/g of arsenic and 5 to 201 ng/g of inorganic arsenic.

“Our findings indicate that intake of rice cereal and other rice-containing foods, such as rice snacks, contribute to infants’ inorganic arsenic exposure and suggest that efforts should be made to reduce inorganic arsenic exposure during this critical phase of development,” the study authors wrote.

Arsenic Exposure Higher For Infants

Arsenic occurs naturally in water, air and soil in both organic and inorganic forms. Inorganic arsenic is more toxic and rice often has higher levels of this type of arsenic because it absorbs the arsenic from the soil in which it grows.

Recent evidence reveals inorganic arsenic exposure can decrease a child’s performance on developmental tests, may also cause neurological problems, lung and bladder cancer and other side effects. Rice intake is three times greater for infants than for adults, concluded the FDA.

A 2013 FDA study had a much different conclusion. Health agency researchers determined that levels of arsenic found in rice were much lower than previously though and posed no immediate health risk.

The findings were determined from a study of more than 1,300 rice samples and other rice products, including rice cereals, cakes, snack bars, infant food and toddler foods. The focus was prompted by a Consumer Reports independent study done in 2012 which determined levels of inorganic arsenic were high in food products.

Both studies prompted further research into the levels of arsenic babies receive from formula. Researchers tested the levels of arsenic in infant formula, concluding arsenic levels in infant urine were more than seven times higher than infants who were only breastfed.

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