Early maturity linked to food additives, pesticides: experts

08:24, August 18, 2010      

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A toddler gazes out from the toy car attached to his mother's shopping cart on Aug 11 as she looks at the milk powder products on the shelves of a supermarket in Weifang, East China's Shandong province. [Xinhua]

Young families have been flocking to clinics in China's large cities over the past week due to widespread concern over milk powder produced by a Chinese company that is alleged to have caused three infant girls to grow breasts.

On Aug 9, three female infants in Wuhan of Central China's Hubei province were reported suffering abnormal sexual development. Doctors and parents suspected the milk powder they had been using contained sex hormones.

Although the Ministry of Health said on Sunday that its investigation found no evidence that the formula made by NASDAQ-listed Synutra had caused the babies to develop breasts, concerns over children's health came to the forefront in some Chinese cities.

In Shanghai, experts estimated at least 30,000 children developed early maturity in the city, local media reported.

Shanghai pediatrician Huang Xiaodong said that around 20 percent of sexually precocious children he had treated were younger than 2 years old.

Kong Yuanyuan, a doctor at Beijing Maternal and Child Healthcare Hospital's early sexual maturity clinic, said early maturity in Chinese children is as high as 1 percent, nearly 10 times the rate in most Western countries.

National statistics on the number of children with early maturity have not been compiled and there are no plans to do so, according to the Chinese Medical Association.

Early sexual maturity refers to a condition in which girls develop secondary sexual characteristics before the age of 8 and boys before they reach 9. Meanwhile, the average age of reaching puberty is 10 for girls and 12 for boys.

Kong attributed the condition to the rising amount of estrogen in the food chain as a result of pesticides being sprayed on fruit and vegetables.

Chinese authorities have been working to strengthening food safety management since last year. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress passed the Food Safety Law on Feb 28, 2009. The State Council passed enforcement regulations of the law in July of the same year.

In the past two months the Ministry of Health has issued a series of regulations to restrict food additive usage. For example, food flavoring essence is banned from being used in infant food.

Nevertheless, Chen Junshi, a researcher with the nutrition and food safety department at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in his blog that, "China has 200 million scattered rural households that produce food, and has more than 500,000 small and medium food processors."

It is impossible to ensure that they all have enough scientific knowledge and law-abiding awareness to meet all the food regulations, he wrote.

Source: China Daily


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