Food Additives May Affect Kids' Hyperactivity
Food Coloring and Preservatives May Increase Hyperactivity in Children, but Evidence Not Conclusive
WebMD News Archive
May 24, 2004 -- Artificial food colorings, preservatives, and
other additives may play a role in increasing hyperactive behavior among young
children, a new study suggests.
British researchers found removing food additives from the diet
of a group of 3-year-olds caused a reduction in the children's hyperactive
behavior reported by their parents. And when the food colorings and
preservatives were added back into the children's diets, the parents reported
an increase in hyperactivity.
Based on these parental reports of behavioral changes,
researchers estimate that if the current 15% of children thought to have
hyperactivity-related behavior problems were to go on an additive-free diet,
the prevalence could be reduced to 6%.
However, although the parents reported significant changes in
hyperactive behavior, the study showed no significant differences on clinical
tests of hyperactivity related to the food additives.
"In the absence of the objective tests showing any effect,
we have to be slightly dubious about that magnitude of that effect," says
researcher John Warner, professor of child health at the University of
But if these findings can be confirmed by further studies,
researchers say removal of food additives from children's diets could help
reduce their long-term risk of behavioral problems.
The Food Additive-Hyperactivity Link
Researchers say it's not the first study to come up with mixed
results when looking at the relationship between artificial food additives and
The notion that food could have an effect on children's
behavior became popularized in the 1970s by allergist Benjamin Feingold, MD,
who published the Feingold diet. He advocated a diet free of more than 300 food
additives to treat hyperactivity.
Since then, many studies have looked at the issue, but most
have failed to substantiate Feingold's claims or have shown only a small
benefit in learning and behavioral problems in children with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
"When everyone thinks of hyperactivity and diet, they
automatically think now of food additives and colors and the Feingold
approach," says Roseanne Schnoll, PhD, RD, associate professor of nutrition
at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. "Even though there
is merit to it, none of the studies have backed it up tremendously."
But what Warner says is unique about this study is that they
found an effect of food additives on non-hyperactive children as well as those
with existing behavior problems.
"All children had small shifts in their behavior in the
same direction when exposed to the additives," Warner tells WebMD. "If
the children are already normal, then that's not a major issue. But if they've
already got rather difficult behavior, that might be the final straw that makes
it totally unacceptable."
New Study Adds to Debate
In this study, published in the June issue of the Archives
of Disease in Childhood, researchers looked at the behavioral effects of
removing and then adding back artificial food colorings and preservatives from
the diets of 277 children living on the Isle of Wight in the U.K.