Industrial food additives and health risks to children

In a recent study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and DieteticsResearchers are exploring the potential adverse health effects on children due to the use of artificial additives in processed foods.

Stady: Use of food additives in ultra-processed foods: Can processing use of artificial additives contribute to adverse health outcomes in children? Image credit: antoniodiaz/

Health effects of processed foods

Previous studies have linked consumption of ultra-processed food (UPF) to negative health outcomes, reinforcing the current negative perception of industrially processed food.

Consumption of industrially processed food has been associated with adverse health effects; However, these reports are only correlative and do not prove causation. Thus, more research is needed to determine whether various processing methods that remove fiber from grains, include high concentrations of sugar, fat and salt, or include additives with detailed technical purposes are responsible for the associated health risks.

To date, studies examining the effect of processing technologies on obesity have focused only on added fat, sugar and salt.

Tools for assessing the intake of the UPF

Studies investigating associations between UPF consumption and negative health effects initially used diet recall and food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) to assess individuals’ eating habits. These tools can determine the types and amounts of food people are consuming.

The NOVA system is another tool that can classify foods into four groups based on their perceived level of industrial processing. This tool helps identify UPFs by providing vague descriptions of additives and processed ingredients that are not commonly used in home cooking.

Food labels in the United States require disclosure of added sugar, salt, fat and fiber content. However, the FDA’s classification of Nutrition Facts and Ingredients List does not provide enough information about the additives for consumers to make informed decisions. As a result, estimates of the population’s exposure to food additives can be calculated using dietary intake surveys.

recent results

A previous study discovered that certain food categories had the highest use of food additives approved for industrial food processing by using a unique method to track changes in food additive exposure over time, which allowed estimates of exposure in susceptible groups of children and infants. The new approach has yielded significant results in identifying potential additives that may cause adverse health effects in individuals consuming a high UPF.

Notably, the purchased products were related to their nutritional composition and ingredient information through Nutrition Facts labels and scanned ingredient lists. This was done using commercial food product databases that included relevant information from the year the product was purchased. Purchased food products were categorized into major and minor food groups by registered dietitians, which allowed for a more objective allocation of foods to the respective NOVA groups.

The purchase of baby food products with additives has increased dramatically over the past 20 years, which is of particular concern to those concerned about the potential risks associated with artificially processed baby foods. In addition, children may be more susceptible to the toxic effects of food additives due to their lower body weight compared to adults.

In the current study, the authors proposed a method to determine exposure to food additives in certain foods using purchased product and retail brand label information. This approach can aid in research on the safety of food additive use in susceptible populations.

A systematic review was conducted on the effects of additive consumption on children’s health, with particular focus on the functional class of additives known as colourants. Some of the health effects noted included attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, urticaria, rhinitis, and angioedema. However, the health effects noted in reviews of color additives cannot be definitively linked to the mechanical features associated with some color additives.

Some additives are currently approved for all four functional categories, which indicates that not all additives in these categories are associated with negative health effects. In addition, additives belonging to a functional class may differ in their chemical properties or physiological effects.


Food processing safety and identification of questionable additives in frequently consumed UPFs are important considerations due to the increased rates of obesity and chronic disease risks associated with high UPF intake. Using food purchase data for US household groceries can help develop more accurate methods for estimating the safety and concentration of food additives in processed foods.

Journal reference:

  • Calvo, MS, and Urebari, J. (2023). Use of food additives in ultra-processed foods: Can processing use of artificial additives contribute to adverse health outcomes in children? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 123(6); 861-864. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2023.01.010
Industrial food additives and health risks to children

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