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A consumer group has petitioned the government to ban artificial food dyes citing that they have been linked to hyperactivity in children. There is enough data available to prove that these artificial coloring agents can lead to a hyperactive behavior.

Artificial food dyes linked to hyperactivity in children

A consumer group, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, under the leadership of Michael Jacobson has petitioned the government to ban artificial food dyes citing that they have been linked to hyperactivity in children. They believe there is enough data available to prove that these artificial coloring agents can lead to a hyperactive behavior in children who are prone to it. The group will be presenting its case before a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee in the coming days. According to them, almost all brands of food and drinks popular among the children, like PepsiCo’s Gatorade, Cheetos and Doritos, Kellogg’s Eggo waffles and Kraft’s Jell-O deserts contain a fair amount of these coloring agents. The manufacturing giants have vehemently denied the charges saying that regulators all over the world have not been able to prove any link between the use of synthetic dyes in food and the behavioral changes in children.

According to the FDA reviewers who have put forth their views in front of the advisory committee, there have been studies which conclude that the use of synthetic dyes can precipitate attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children who are genetically prone to develop it. However, the effect of these artificial coloring agents on the behavior of other children has remained inconclusive so far. Around 5% children in the U.S. are affected by ADHD.

The advisory committee will take into consideration the views of its reviewers and will also seek the opinion of other nutritional experts before deciding about the further course of action.

The connection between ADHD and food has been known for long

Parents of children suffering from ADHD and various types of allergy have known that there is a definite relationship between their child’s disease and the food he his consuming. The presence of dyes in the food has been incriminated for the hyperactivity in children who are already prone to it. According to John Warner, a professor of child health in the University of Southampton, all children show some sort of hyperactivity when exposed to these synthetic additives. However, the problem is far more exaggerated if they are already suffering from ADHD.

The Food Standards Agency in U.K. has made it mandatory for the food manufacturing companies to list all the ingredients, including the name of the synthetic dyes on the food packets. The FSA has also advised the parents of hyperactive children to eliminate a few food colors from the diet of their children as consuming these food colors along with the food preservative sodium benzoate can have an adverse effect on the child’s behavior. Five important food manufacturing chains in U.K. have already banned the use of synthetic colors in their products.

The FSA warning follows a study done on 3 to 8 year old children in Southampton area. The study drew a conclusion that removing synthetic additives from the children’s diet caused a reduction in their hyperactive behavior but the result was inversed if the food colorings and preservatives were added back.

In view of the above findings, the ruling of the FDA will be of considerable importance to the parents of children suffering from ADHD in particular, and parents of all the children in U.S. in general.

  • Bateman, B. Archives of Disease in Childhood, June 2004, vol 89: pp 506-511. John Warner, professor of child health, University of Southampton, England. Roseanne Schnoll, PhD, RD, associate professor of nutrition, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
  • Chronic and acute effects of artificial colourings and preservatives on children's behaviour (September, 2007). Dr. Joelle Buck & Ms Ruth Hodgson. University of Southampton. Food Standards Agency.