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Fortified Products could be Harmful to Children

Update Date: Jun 24, 2014 11:46 AM EDT

Over the years, more and more food and beverage products have been fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Even though consumers tend to gravitate to these types of products, a new study is warning that eating too many fortified products could actually be detrimental to one's health. The new research out of the Environmental Working Group reported that almost 50 percent of young children end up with elevated levels of vitamin A, zinc and niacin that are considered to be dangerous.

"Heavily fortified foods may sound like a good thing, but it when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels could actually cause short or long-term health problems," Renee Sharp, EWG's research director and co-author of the report, said in a statement. "Manufacturers use vitamin and mineral fortification to sell their products, adding amounts in excess of what people need and more than might be prudent for young children to consume."

For this study, the EWG analyzed over 1,550 cereals and 1,000 snack bars. The researchers discovered that 114 cereals were fortified with vitamin A, zinc and/or niacin at levels that were 30 percent or more than the recommended daily values for adults. Some of the cereals included General Mills Total Raisin Bran, General Mills Wheaties Fuel and Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies. The team found that 27 popular snack bars, which included Balance Bars and Kind bars, contained 50 percent or more of the daily amount for at least one of the three nutrients recommended for adults.

"In other words, when a parent picks up a box of cereal and sees that one serving provides 50 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A, he or she may think that it provides 50 percent of a child's recommended intake," said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D, an EWG research consultant and co-author of the report. "But he or she would most likely be wrong, since the Daily Values are based on an adult's dietary needs."

According to the researchers, consuming too much vitamin A can lead to liver damage, skeletal abnormalities and hair loss. For pregnant women, excessive levels could lead to birth defects and abnormalities. Elevated levels of zinc negatively affect cooper absorption, red and white blood cells and immune function.

The EWG concluded that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should update and regulate the amount of fortified vitamins and minerals that goes into these products. Parents need to be better aware of what they are feeding their children as well. The full report, "How Much is Too Much?" can be found here.

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