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Do food safety information and protective behavior help protect mercury exposure in children?

Contemporary PEDS Journal, June 2022, Volume 40, Issue 5

In Taiwan, a recent study examined whether mothers who had food safety–related risk perceptions of mercury led to lower exposure in mother and child.

Mercury, a well-known toxin found in some foods, can negatively affect a child’s neurodevelopment. Individuals who consume a large amount of fish and seafood may be at risk for ingesting harmful levels of mercury. A recent investigation in Taiwan examined whether families with mothers who had food safety–related risk perceptions of mercury or who engaged in protective behaviors led to lower exposures of mercury for mother and child.

Pairs of mothers with a child younger than 6 years participated in the study between August 2017 and July 2020. In the study, which was conducted in Taiwan, the mothers were asked questions about demographic characteristics and dietary consumptions. The dietary portion asked about the typical consumption of foods for mother and child over the past month across a number of food categories.

There were 283 pairs included in the study. The average age of the mothers was 35.5 years. The average age of the children was 2.7 years; 54.1% were boys. Nearly 80% of the mothers had at least a university education. Smoking (1.4%) and alcohol use (2.9%) were very rare in participants. The mean fish take intake frequency was 5.1 meals per week. The investigators used hair and fingernail samples to find mercury levels and found that the average mercury levels were 1.07 ± 0.67 g/g and 0.42 ± 0.34 g/g for mothers, respectively, and 1.11 ± 1.22 g/g and 0.36 ± 0.26 g/g for children, respectively. These findings indicate that 42% of the mothers and 41% of the children had hair mercury levels that exceeded the recommended value of 1 g/g set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Furthermore, the mercury exposure was much higher in children than their mothers, with the estimated daily intake being 3.3 times higher in the children than their mothers. Fish consumption was found to be the main reason behind mercury exposure for mother and child. The children of mothers who did not engage in protective factors or have risk perceptions linked to food safety had higher mercury concentrations than those who did.

Investigators concluded that mothers who were more aware of the risks of mercury were more likely to have lower levels of mercury as were their children. It is also important to note that although Taiwanese consume more seafood in general than Americans, choosing fish as a healthier alternative to beef has been encouraged over the last few years, so keeping an eye on mercury levels could be helpful to caregivers when deciding on diet for their children.

Reference:

Kao CS, Wang YL, Jiang CB, et al. Associations of maternal food safety-related risk perceptions and protective behaviors with daily mercury intake and internal doses of Taiwanese women and their preschool children. Environ Res. Published online April 21, 2022. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2022.113344