The safety of rice for children is usually taken as a given: rice cereal is commonly used as a bridge to solid foods for babies and rice cakes are often given to young children as a healthy snack.
A new study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, however, found that infants who consumed rice and rice-based products had higher inorganic arsenic concentrations in their urine than those who did not eat any of the grain.
Inorganic arsenic is classified as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is highly toxic to humans and especially developing infants, and its long-term health effects include adverse developmental effects, neurotoxicity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“Emerging epidemiologic evidence suggests that [arsenic] exposure in utero and during early life may be associated with adverse health effects on fetal growth and on infant and child immune and neurodevelopmental outcomes, even at the relatively low levels of exposure common in the United States,” the researchers write.
For their study, the researchers analyzed data on the dietary patterns of 759 infants taken from the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study conducted between 2011 and 2014.
In 129 urine samples taken at 12 months, researchers found arsenic concentrations were significantly higher among infants who consumed rice and rice-based foods compared to those who had no rice or rice-based foods in their diet. Additionally, infants who ate rice had urinary arsenic concentrations twice as high as that found in infants who ate no rice. The highest urinary arsenic concentration was found among infants who ate rice cereal: 9.53 micrograms per liter compared to 2.85 micrograms per liter in infants who did not consume rice or rice-based products.
The Food and Drug Administration proposed limiting inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal to 100 parts per billion earlier this month.