Food additives linked with hyperactivity – again!

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Yesterday, a story emerged which concerns the role of artificial food additives and hyperactivity in children. Researchers at Southampton University in the UK have, apparently, conducted a study which shows that certain food additives have adverse effects on mood and behaviour in children. I say apparently because the results of this study have not been published yet. The findings have, though, been leaked to the magazine The Grocer, which is how they have found their way into the public domain.

This study was conducted on behalf of the UK’s Food Standards Agency. Although it looks like that the research will call into question the use of specific additives in the diet, the FSA claims it will not make any official comment on the research until it is published in a scientific journal. I am not sure I understand the reasoning behind this. Good science is good science after all. Are the scientific advisors at the FSA not confident enough in their own abilities to assess this particular piece of science and make appropriate recommendations?

Also, we need to take this research in some context. This is not the first time that research has found that artificial additives have the capacity to disrupt children’s mood and/or behaviour. In a 2002 UK government-funded study conducted by the UK’s Asthma and Allergy Research Centre, a group of 277 three-year-olds were assessed for one month. Each day for two weeks the children were given a measured quantity of fruit juice laced with four artificial colourings (tartrazine E102, sunset yellow E110, carmoisine E122, ponceau 4R E124) and a preservative (sodium benzoate – E211). The other two weeks they were given a similar fruit juice, but without the additives. Neither the children nor their parents knew which fruit juice was being administered at any given time. Parents were asked to assess problem behaviours such as interrupting, fiddling with objects, behaviour that disturbed others, problems with getting to sleep, concentration difficulties and temper tantrums.

The results of this study showed that the artificial additives were a potent cause of behavioural problems in children. The researchers commented that significant changes in children’s hyperactive behaviour could be produced by the removal of colourings and additives from their diet. They estimated that if the additives tested were removed from the UK diet, the number of children affected by hyperactivity should fall by two-thirds.

Some may judge there’s enough evidence for concerned parents, particularly those of children with ADHD, to be wary of foods containing these specific additives. They may not feel the need to wait for the official pronouncement from the FSA, particularly if, for whatever reason, its advisors do not feel confident enough to comment on this latest research before it is officially published.

For a full list of more than 200 hundred foods that contain one or more of the suspect additives, go to: and click on the link after ‘Further Information’.

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