Friday, March 25, 2011

Behavior & Diet: Pesticide Use

I recently read a couple of studies that show a correlation between pesticide exposure and child development and behavior. A class of pesticides called organophosphates have been found to affect neurological development in the womb (1) and trigger Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children (2).

ADHD is being diagnosed 22 percent more frequently than four years ago - that means one in four children now have trouble with concentration, learning, memory and appropriate age-related behavior (3). ADHD is estimated to be one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders in children and adolescents today (4).

Organophospates affect our nervous system by inhibiting the enzyme that regulates appropriately timed nerve impulses. When the enzyme is inhibited, the nervous system becomes overstimulated and neurological dysfunction occurs (5). Organophosphates are among the most widely used insecticides around the world and are a spin off from the nerve gases developed for use during World War II (6).

Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, especially apples, pears, grapes, and peaches - the ones children are most drawn to - are among the most contaminated (7). Pesticide levels have been noted to be even higher during the winter months, likely due to the produce being imported from countries with laxer application standards. However, by simply switching to organic produce, markers of organophosphates in urine and saliva disappear completely (8). And yet, the debate around whether organically grown food is healthier than conventionally grown food rages on.

I think it is mostly common sense that certain foods trigger behavioral changes in children - sugar being a prime example. But, what about the more insidious affects of hidden ingredients like pesticides? Something is wrong when we have to consider what is healthier for our children: an apple or a cookie. As consumers, how can we make informed decisions about what to eat when we have very little information about what is being applied to our food? The chemical inputs that are being used to grow produce - pesticides, herbicides and fungicides - should be labeled just as ingredients are. We'd all think twice about picking up that non-organic apple, wouldn't we? Maybe more of us would feel inspired to plant an apple tree of our own. Our children would certainly be healthier for it.

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