The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released a June 2014 report claiming that the fortification of foods with large amounts of vitamins and minerals could pose a health risk to children. Citing a study by the National Institutes of Health and California Polytechnic State University, EWG alleges that children younger than age 8 “are at risk of consuming vitamin A, zinc and niacin at levels above the Institute of Medicine’s Upper Intake Level.” According to the report, excessive intake of these nutrients could lead to liver and skeletal issues and immune system dysfunction, as well as short-term effects such as rash, nausea and vomiting.
Targeting “two food categories that are frequently fortified and heavily marketed to children,” EWG’s analysis of 1,556 cereals and 1,025 snack bars allegedly identifies (i) “114 cereals fortified with 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc and/or niacin,” and (ii) “27 snack bars fortified with 50 percent or more of the adult Daily Value for at least one of these nutrients.” The report also faults manufacturers for accidental “fortification ‘overdoses’” that “can make actual exposures greater than the amounts indicated on the nutrition label.”
Based on these results, EWG urges the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set new Daily Value levels, update serving sizes on Nutrition Facts labels and require Daily Values specific to each age group on products marketed to children. In addition, the group recommends that children consume products with no more than 25 percent of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc and niacin. “Finally,” opines the report, “it is critical that the FDA take seriously the question of how food manufacturers may misuse food fortification guidelines and nutrient content claims to sell more products, particularly those of little nutritional value.”