From Our 2012 Archives
Organic Food for Kids: Worth the Price?
By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Oct. 23, 2012 -- Parents who buy organic foods because they think they are more nutritious might be wasting their money, the nation's largest group of pediatricians says.
In a report issued this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is for the first time offering guidance about organic produce, meat, and milk.
The group's findings are mixed.
Fewer Pesticides, Same Nutrition
While organic produce typically contains lower levels of pesticides than conventional produce, nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods appear to be minimal, according to the report.
Organically raised meat is less likely to be contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria, but the researchers suggest that organic milk may not be worth the extra money.
University of Florida pediatrics professor Janet Silverstein, MD, who was an author of the report, says parents with limited food budgets don't have to buy organic to feed their children well.
"The most important thing is that children eat a healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk," she says. "Parents with limited means should not choose to buy organic if it means their children will be eating fewer of these healthy foods."
Organic Foods and Health: More Study Needed
The report was presented Monday in New Orleans at the AAP's annual meeting, and it will appear in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Co-author Joel Forman, MD, says there is little research examining the long-term health impact of eating organic vs. non-organic foods.
"At this point, we simply do not have the scientific evidence to know whether the difference in pesticide levels will impact a person's health over a lifetime, though we do know that children -- especially young children whose brains are developing -- are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures," he says.
For parents who are concerned about food cost and pesticide exposure, Forman says it makes sense to buy organic in some cases, but not others.
Conventionally grown apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, and grapes are among the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides, according to the nonprofit organization Environmental Working Group, which each year publishes a list of pesticide levels in produce.
Onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocados, and cabbage have some of the lowest pesticide levels, the group says.
According to the report, the research suggests that organic milk and conventionally processed milk have similar levels of contaminants, including growth hormones.
The AAP panel emphasized that all milk that children drink should be pasteurized to reduce the risk of bacterial infection.
Organic Better for Environment
The report notes that pediatricians should be mindful of the fact that environmental concerns as well as individual health often motivate people to buy organic.
That is true for Birmingham, Ala., mom Hannah Wolfson, who has been buying organic produce directly from the local farm that grows it for many years.
She says reducing her 6-year-old son Alex's exposure to chemicals and pesticides is a main motivation, but not her only one.
"We are getting the food very quickly when it comes from the field, so we feel like it is fresher and tastes better," she says.
When she goes to the grocery store, she typically passes by the organic produce, which often costs more than twice as much as non-organic fruits and vegetables.
"I try to buy organic apples when I can because they don't tend to be as prohibitively expensive as other organic produce," she says. "But I am more concerned with buying locally grown foods than buying organic. I'd rather buy a local peach that has been sprayed than an organic one that has been shipped from who knows where."
SOURCES: Silverstein, J. Pediatrics, Oct. 22, 2012. Environmental Working Group: "EWG's 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce." Janet Silverstein, MD, professor of pediatrics and chief of pediatric endocrinology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. Hannah Wolfson, Birmingham, Ala. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.