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ADHD in Children Health Center

Food Additives May Affect Kids' Hyperactivity

Food Coloring and Preservatives May Increase Hyperactivity in Children, but Evidence Not Conclusive
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The Food Additive-Hyperactivity Link continued...

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.

During the study, the children ate a strict diet free of food additives for one week. In the following three weeks, the children drank a fruit juice drink supplemented with 20 mg of food colorings and 45 mg of sodium benzoate (a food preservative commonly used in fruit drinks and carbonated beverages) or a placebo fruit drink each day on alternate weeks in addition to the food additive-free diet.

Neither the parents nor the children knew which beverage contained the additives, and the beverages were indistinguishable in appearance and taste. The children's behavior was evaluated before the study began and assessed in clinical tests and by the parents throughout the study.

The study showed that the parents reported significantly more disruptive behavior during the periods when the children drank the beverage containing additives, and there was a reduction in hyperactive behavior once the child stopped drinking the beverage.

But the clinical tests showed no increases in hyperactivity during these periods.

Researchers say the parents' ratings may be more sensitive to changes in behavior because parents experience their child's behavior over a longer period of time and in more varied settings and under less optimal conditions than in a clinical evaluation. They say that in trials looking at the effects of medications to treat ADHD, parents typically report the largest benefits of the drugs.

The study also showed that children with severe hyperactivity were no more or less likely to respond to the food additives than those with milder behavioral problems.

"If this can be replicated, there may be a significant public health message that we need to change people's perception of food, that it doesn't need to be highly colored to be nutritious," says Warner.

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