Food additives and their health implications on children in Africa: a systematic review
Objective: The safety of processed foods is an issue of public health importance, especially in Africa where there is unchecked rate at which many food industries turn out novel 'chemicals' aimed at increasing the acceptability of their products. This is particularly true for processed foods targeted at children, who remain the most vulnerable group. The aim of this review was to identify health implications of food additives on children in Africa based on findings from original research works.
Methods: We conducted a parallel search of Medline, EMBASE and Global Health for relevant studies from 1970 to 2014. We included studies conducted among African populations reporting effects of food additives among children (under age 17 years). Data on health implications of food additives were extracted and reviewed.
Results: Our search returned 479 studies, with only 4 studies meeting the selection criteria. Five countries were represented, namely Libya, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Sudan The total study population was 3326. All the studies were cross-sectional, and focused essentially on sugar as an important risk factor for the development of dental caries and/or erosion in children.
Conclusions: Studies on important food additives such as preservatives, colouring agents, sweeteners, anti-caking agents and their effects on health of children are largely unavailable in Africa, although anecdotal reports are suggestive of their deleterious effects. To ensure evidenced-based decision making and public policies in this regard, there is a need for original research works.
Keywords: Children, food additives, food industry, Africa