Food additives fire up children's hyperactivity: study

Certain common artificial food colourings and additives are fuelling hyperactivity in children, a British study has found.

Certain common artificial food colourings and additives are fuelling hyperactivity in children, a British study has found.

The study in The Lancet medical journal, released late Wednesday, confirms a link long suspected by many parents betweenhyperactivity and food preservatives.

For the study, researchers at Southampton University studied 153 three-year-olds and 144 eight- to nine-year-olds, giving them fruit drinks with various levels of additives.

The children were divided into four groups for the purpose of the study – groups A andB in each age category. The three-year-old childrenin both groups consumed drinks that had food colouring amounts equivalent to two 56-gram bags of sweets.

The nine-year-old study participants, on the other hand, were exposed to varying amounts of food colouring. Group A ingested a dose equal to about two bags of sweets per day; group B ingested the equivalentof four bags of sweets.

Researchersfound that children without a history of any hyperactive disorder showed varying degrees of hyperactivity after consuming the drinks. The groups that consumed all of the additive-laced juice had "significantly higher" hyperactivity scores than placebo for both Aand B drink mixes, according to the study.

They also had higher scores than the children who only consumed 85 per cent of the juice.

Additives linked to ADHD

Artificial food colours and additives (AFCA)have been proven in studies to affect behaviour in children. The study says that in many cases children who are hyperactive are diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"The possible benefit in a reduction in the level of hyperactivity of the general population by the removal of artificial food colour and additives from the diet is well-established," says the study.

"The present findings, in combination with the replicated evidence for the AFCA effects on the behaviour of three-year-old children, lend strong support for the case that food additives exacerbate hyperactive behaviours [inattention, impulsivity, and overactivity] in children at least up to middle childhood."

Increased hyperactivity is associated with the development of educational difficulties, especially in relation to reading.

Britain issues warning

While some children in the test groups showed little or no response, the results were still significant enough for Britain's Food Standards Agency to issue a warning several hours after the study's release urging parents of hyperactive children to avoid foods with multiple additives.

Among the additives studied were:

  • E211, sodium benzoate, a preservative used to extend shelf-life of food and drinks.
  • E102, tartrazine, a yellowfood dye used in ice cream, soft drinks and fish sticks.
  • E104, quinoline yellow, a yellow dye used in soft drinks, cosmetics andmedications.
  • E110, sunset yellow, a dye used in yogurts and sweets.
  • E122, carmoisine, a coal tar derivative used in sweets and yogurts.
  • E129, allura red, a dye used in pop drinks andbubble gum.

According to Health Canada's website, all but one of the additives, carmoisine, are permitted for use in Canada.

The British government'sFood Standards Agency stopped short of calling for a ban on the additives, although other countries have banned some of them.

Norway, for example, has banned all of the additives while the U.S. has banned quinoline yellowand carmoisine.