Rice cereal is often a baby’s first solid food, but it contains relatively high amounts of arsenic, a source of growing concern. Now an advocacy group reports that while the levels of this potentially toxic substance in infant rice cereals have dropped slightly in recent years, rice cereals still contain six times more inorganic arsenic, on average, than infant cereals made with other grains like barley or oatmeal.
The new report comes from Healthy Babies Bright Futures, an alliance of scientists, nonprofit groups and private donors that aims to reduce children’s exposures to chemicals that may harm developing brains. One step parents can take immediately to reduce children’s exposure to arsenic is to feed infants cereals made with other grains, the group suggests.
“Parents have a lot of easy ways to reduce their babies’ exposure now because there are so many new cereal options on the market, many are fortified with iron that babies need, and many are just as affordable as rice cereal,” said Jane Houlihan, research director for Healthy Babies Bright Futures. The group also notes that many snacks contain rice.
Arsenic is ubiquitous in the environment and found in many foods, but rice plants are particularly efficient at drawing it in from the surrounding soil and water, experts say. High levels have been tied to cancers of the skin, liver, bladder and lungs. Newer research has linked long-term low-level exposures to cognitive and behavioral problems in children, though most babies currently eating rice cereals and rice foods do not show adverse effects.
“Infants are especially vulnerable because their bodies are so small, and on a per-pound basis, they’re getting much higher exposure than anyone else in the population,” Ms. Houlihan said. “They’re also vulnerable because it is a neurotoxic compound, and their brain is developing.”