Babies who eat rice cereals and other rice-based snacks have been found to have higher arsenic concentrations than infants who did not take any rice, a study has shown.
The study, published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal on Monday, looked at 759 infants born to mothers in the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study from 2011 to 2014. In their results, researchers found that total urinary arsenic concentrations were twice as high among infants who ate white or brown rice compared with those who ate no rice.
The study does note that there are other factors to consider, such as consumption of other dietary sources like apple juice and local conditions of the drinking water. But researchers also believed the results showed a conclusive link.
“Our results indicate that consumption of rice and rice products increases infants’ exposure to As [arsenic] and that regulation could reduce As exposure during this critical phase of development,” the study said.
The results come after the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement earlier this month calling for a proposed limit on inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. FDA testing had found that the majority of infant rice cereal on the market had already met or were close to the proposed limit.
The presence of arsenic in rice is polarizing, since it is both naturally occurring in soil and water, but also the result of pesticides used on crops. Rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic—which is considered more toxic than organic arsenic—than other foods, because rice plants and grains tend to absorb arsenic from the environment more than other crops.
Numerous studies in the past have shown that arsenic exposure can impact a baby’s immune system and neuro-development. A 2004 study on children in Bangladesh found that kids exposed to arsenic in drinking water ended up scoring lower on intellectual tests, and a 2013 study found that even low levels of inorganic arsenic exposure in pregnant women could increase respiratory infections in newborns.
The studies are especially important when it comes to baby rice cereal, since pound for pound, rice intake for infants is about three times greater than for adults, and the FDA stated that people consume the most rice, relative to their weight, at approximately 8 months of age. Prominent baby food brands like Gerber, which is owned by Nestlé, have issued assurances that its products are safe for eating.