Organic foods do not appear to boost kids' health over the long term any more than healthy foods produced the conventional way, an influential group of doctors said today (Oct. 22) after reviewing current research on the topic.
The most important thing for kids, in terms of nutrition, is to consume a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products — regardless of whether these foods are organic , said Dr. Janet Silverstein, a member of the nutrition committee at the American Academy of Pediatrics, the organization that put together the report.
"Many families have a limited food budget, and we do not want families to choose to consume smaller amounts of more expensive organic foods, and thus reduce their overall intake of healthy foods like produce," Silverstein said.
However, the report also calls for more studies on the potential health benefits of organic food, because current research is limited. Studies looking at nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods have not been rigorous, and no large studies have examined the effect of consuming organic foods for a long time.
The report reviewed dozens of research articles on organic and conventionally produced foods published in the last several decades, with a focus on recent studies of the nutrition and pesticide content of foods.
While some studies show organic foods have more vitamin C and phosphorus than conventional foods, there's no evidence that this difference is meaningful for kids' health, the report says.
It's also true that organic foods have lower levels of pesticides. But again, it's not clear whether this difference would affect a person's health over time, said Dr. Joel Forman, another author of the report. However, "we do know that children — especially young children whose brains are developing — are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures," Forman added.
Rinsing produce removes some, but not all pesticide residues, and has not been proved to decrease people's exposure to pesticides when they consume foods, the report says.
Some people buy organic milk because they are concerned about the growth hormones given to cows on conventional farms. However, such worries appear to be unfounded. The growth hormone used in cows (recombinant bovine growth hormone) is specific for cows, and does not have a biological effect on people, the report says. In addition, growth hormone is degraded in the acid of a person's stomach.
Cows are also treated with steroid hormones, such as estrogens, to increase lean muscle mass and accelerate growth. The effect of exposure to estrogens through cow's milk is not clear, and studies should examine this, the report says.
Because organic farming forbids use of antibiotics on farm animals, meat from these animals is less likely to harbor drug-resistant bacteria, and "has the potential to reduce human disease caused by drug-resistant organisms," the report says.
Proper cooking reduces the risk of exposure to drug resistant bacteria, but "the reality is that this does not always happen," Forman said. "As a result, outbreaks of disease caused by drug-resistant bacteria do occur," Forman said.
People may choose to eat organic foods for environmental reasons rather than health reasons, the report says. Organic farming has a lower carbon footprint, and reduces the amount of pesticide contamination in the environment.
The report was released today at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting in New Orleans.
Pass it on: Kids should eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, regardless of whether the foods are organic.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.