The Effects of Acrylamide on Babies Birth Weight

The dangers of cigarette smoking while pregnant have long been well-documented, as have foodstuffs such as soft cheese and some fish.  Now there is something else to add to the list. Researchers are now claiming that eating large amounts of chips (fries) and crisps (chips) during pregnancy could result in babies with low birth weight. This is due to a chemical called acrylamide, which is found in fried potatoes and other foods that are baked or fried at high temperatures. 

Led by the Centre for Research in Epidemiology, 1101 single pregnant women from five European countries – Spain, Greece, Denmark, England and Norway – were recruited by researchers between 2006 and 2010. Their diets were monitored by food questionnaires. Blood was then taken from the babies’ umbilical cords after birth and measured for acrylamide. The results showed that the women who took in large amounts of acrylamide while pregnant gave birth to babies 132g lighter than those who had lower levels of the chemical.

In addition, the babies’ head circumferences were up to 0.33mm smaller. As lighter birth weights are frequently connected to health issues and smaller head circumferences are linked to delayed neurodevelopment, teaching pregnant women of the dangers of consuming acrylamide-rich foods could be of enormous importance.   

According to the BBC, mothers from the British cohort of participants were from Bradford, as part of the Born in Bradford project, which is tracking the health of over 10,000 babies born between 2006 and 2010. Shockingly, babies from Bradford were deemed to be the most seriously affected, found to have nearly twice as much acrylamide as babies in Denmark. Moreover, researchers found that the effects of acrylamide on birth weight were similar to those of smoking:

“The estimated effect of high-level exposure to acrylamide is comparable to the well-known adverse effect of smoking on birth weight.”

As with a good deal of research, there are those who take it with a pinch of salt, including the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), which responded to the research in the following way:

“…this single study cannot prove that acrylamide was directly responsible for any association, as many other biological and environmental factors may be involved.” 

Acrylamide is found in a number of foodstuffs, particularly those baked or fried at high temperatures such as chips, bread, cereal products and wheat products. This piece of research does suggest that these foods do cause higher than normal levels of acrylamide, but further research needs to be carried out before it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that it is responsible for low birth weight. However, as the NHS’s evaluation points out, it is a chemical that has been suspected of being carcinogenic (cancer-causing) for quite some time – which suggests that at least cutting down on related foods is a good idea.

To date, the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) has not recommended that pregnant women, or indeed anyone, stops consuming foods that are believed to be high in acrylamide. Nevertheless, it is recommended that people in general eat a balanced diet and, when making foods such as chips and bread, they should be cooked to as light a colour as possible. In the meantime, this latest piece of research will add to the amount of knowledge already in place.