Acrylamide: Danger from Crisps and Chips!

The challenge

Acrylamide is a toxic chemical usually found in chemicals and plastics. In 2002 Swedish scientists were surprised to find acrylamide in food; they discovered that acrylamide is found when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures. This includes everyday food and drink such as chips, crisps, cereals and coffee.

The big questions

Firstly, does being exposed to these foods in our diet have harmful consequences on human health? Secondly, what is the effect on the unborn baby? We already knew that acrylamide can cross the placenta from the mother to the baby in the womb.

What we are doing about it

Born in Bradford teamed up with other studies that are similar from five countries (Denmark, Greece, Norway, Spain) to investigate these important questions. We asked pregnant women in each of these countries detailed question about their diet in pregnancy. After the babies were born we measured the amount of acrylamide found in their cord blood.

We found that where the pregnant woman’s diet was high in foods/drinks with acrylamide that had crossed the placenta to the baby there was a reduction in birth weight. This is important because a low birth weight, under 2,500g, is a good indicator of likely infant health in the future. There was also a reduction in head circumference which is an indicator of brain growth.

Changes that have been implemented as a result

Our study provides the first global evidence of the harm of acrylamide in pregnancy. There are simple steps people can take to reduce their exposure to acrylamide – avoid overcooking starchy foods and reduce their intake of crisps, chips, coffee and baked cereals. The evidence has informed moves in California to label coffee with health warnings.

Link to full research

You can read more on this research in the following paper:

Pedersen, M., von Stedingk, H., Botsivali, M., Agramunt, S., Alexander, J., Brunborg, G., et al.(2012). Birth Weight, Head Circumference, and Prenatal Exposure to Acrylamide from Maternal Diet: The European Prospective Mother-Child Study(NewGeneris). Environmental health perspectives, 120(2), 1739-1745. Here
Our research has led to UK, US and EU changes in policy and public health campaigns to reduce levels of acrylamide.

Here is how we have influenced changed in the EU:
Here is how we have influenced changed in the UK:

John Wright

John Wright is a clinical epidemiologist with a background in hospital medicine and public health in the UK and in Africa. He has been working in Bradford since 1996 and is Visiting Professor in Clinical Epidemiology at the Universities of York, Leeds and Bradford.

He is an applied health services researcher with particular interests in translation of research into practice and is the author of over 100 peer review papers, seven Cochrane reviews and three textbooks. He is the chief investigator of the Born in Bradford cohort study.