Could an Apple a Day Be Too Much?

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Could an Apple a Day Be Too Much?: Parents should keep track of how many apples, peaches, and green beans their children eat because those fruits and vegetables, as well as several others, may contain unsafe levels of pesticides, a consumer-advocacy group contends.

In a controversial study released late last month, researchers found that seven popular fruits and vegetables had toxicity levels up to hundreds of times higher than other foods. The researchers analyzed data collected between 1994 and 1997 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on 27,000 samples of fruits and vegetables, domestic and imported.

The study, which appears in the March issue of Consumer Reports magazine, looked at the effect that certain amounts of chemicals found on the fruits and vegetables studied would have on a 44-pound child--about the weight of an average 5-year-old. Given that children typically eat more produce per pound of body weight than adults do, the report suggests that even a single daily serving of apples, grapes, green beans, peaches, pears, spinach, or winter squash could deliver unsafe levels of toxic pesticide residues.

Virtually all the food products in the study were within the government's current legal limits for pesticide residue. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now implementing the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, which requires stricter limits on what chemicals are considered safe to consume.

"Our findings certainly don't mean that parents should stop giving their children plenty of healthy produce," but parents might want to be careful about the type and amount of produce they serve, Edward Groth, the publisher of Consumer Reports, said in a written statement.

But Bruce Ames, a professor of biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, called the report alarmist. "The threats are hypothetical and minuscule," he said. "People should not be worried about pesticide residues. They should be worried about feeding kids a healthy diet."

Hepatitis A: A federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group has recommended that children who live in states with a high occurrence of hepatitis A should be vaccinated against the virus.

The panel said late last month that states with twice the national average of hepatitis A cases--or at least 20 cases for every 100,000 people--should begin vaccination programs.

The disease, which can cause liver damage, infects an estimated 200,000 people in the United States each year. The states that the CDC says currently have a high incidence of the virus are Arizona, Alaska, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington.

Common symptoms of hepatitis A infection include fatigue, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea, and diarrhea.

Medical experts say children are at the highest risk for the virus, which is spread by physical contact or through contaminated food and water.

Toll-Free Help: Concerned about the number of young people without health insurance, President Clinton announced a campaign last week to more aggressively enroll them in a new federal program. The White House said that the National Governors' Association has set up a toll-free number to enroll eligible children in the Medicaid program and the new federal Children's Health Insurance Program, or chip. The phone number is (877) KIDS-NOW or (877) 543-7669. Callers will be directed to state offices that can help them enroll.

CHIP, which was approved by Congress and signed into law by Mr. Clinton in 1997, seeks to extend coverage to 5 million uninsured children who are eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled. But efforts to sign up children have been stymied by bureaucratic barriers, misinformation about eligibility, and limited outreach, the White House said last week. The NGA plans to air radio and television public service announcements and enlist community-based groups to advertise the program.

--Jessica Portner [email protected]

Vol. 18, Issue 25, Page 14

Published in Print: March 3, 1999, as Could an Apple a Day Be Too Much?
Related Stories
Web Resources
  • Read the report, "Do You Know What You're Eating?," Consumer Reports, February 1999.
  • Although many states produce fruit, a typical analysis of chemical use is this one from the state of Washington. These data, from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, show the application of chemicals to crops in one growing season.
  • The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization with offices in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, issued a study in January 1998 analyzing federal data on pesticide exposure in fruit. The press release summarizes the report and has links to additional information.
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