Extension Specialist, Family Life Education
Cape Cod Cooperative Extension
University of Massachusetts
It's a challenge to feed children healthy food that they like. Fruits and vegetables are colorful, crunchy, and tasty ways for children to get vitamin C, vitamin A, and fiber in their diets. These nutrients can help lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. Yet, many people today are concerned about pesticides in foods and the increased risk to health that they may pose.
Pesticides are used to prevent pest damage and loss of crop. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on the amount of pesticide that can be used on crops. These limits are based on how toxic
the pesticide is, how much is left on the crop (the residue), and how much of the crop a person eats. Then, a safety factor of 100 times the amount deemed to be safe is built in to the level allowed. But because there is
great variation in how plants respond to pesticides, weather, and growing conditions, as well as the food people eat, scientists at EPA must use many assumptions to set these pesticide limits.
Children eat more food relative to their body weight than do adults. Children may also handle pesticides differently from adults. This may result in health risks from pesticides that are lower or higher than for
adults. The EPA takes these differences into account when making assumptions and setting limits on pesticide use. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences recommends changes in some of the assumptions made and calls for better information about residues in food and how much children eat.
Most fruits and vegetables consumed by children have no pesticide residues or have residues hundreds of times below the level allowed. Studies have not been able to link the small amounts of residues that are present in produce with any risk of cancer. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dietetic Association, and the National Cancer Institute all recommend that children increase the number of fruits and vegetables in their diets. The benefits of lowering heart disease and cancer are far greater than the risks.
There are some things parents can do to reduce the risk of pesticide residues in children's diets:
1. CHOOSE A VARIETY OF FOODS. This will ensure a balanced diet, as well as lower the chance of problems from any one type of food.
2. CHOOSE PRODUCE THAT IS FREE FROM MOLD, BRUISES, AND DECAY.
3. WASH PRODUCE IN WATER AND PEEL SKIN OR OUTER LEAVES.
4. GROW YOUR OWN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. This gives you more control over your food, as well as being a great activity you can do with kids.
5. KNOW YOUR GROWER. Talk to your farmer at the farmer's market, farm stand, or pick-your-own farm. It's a fun way for you and your children to learn more about the foods you eat.