Watchdog Group Asks for Food Dye Ban

Center for Science in the Public Interest Sees Links to Behavior Problems in Kids

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 03, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

June 3, 2008 -- A watchdog group called on the FDA to ban artificial food dyes because of concerns they may be linked to behavior problems in some sensitive children.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants eight artificial colorings to be pulled off the market in favor of natural food dyes now in growing use in Europe and elsewhere. The eight dyes include Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, and Yellow 6.

The group says a handful of studies suggest eating artificially colored food could play a role in worsening attention and hyperactivity problems in sensitive children.

"Americans are now consuming twice as much food dye per person as they did 50 years ago," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Artificial dyes are used in everything from candy to cereal to soft drinks. They are nearly ubiquitous on grocery store shelves and in many fast-food products.

(Have you ever noticed reactions to food dyes yourself? In your kids? Talk with others on WebMD's Health Cafe message board.)

Food Additives and ADHD

A pair of British studies -- one in 3-year-olds and another in 3-year-olds and 8- and 9-year-olds -- showed that food additives may increase the risk of hyperactivity behavior.

Another analysis looking at several separate trials estimated that food dyes contribute to hyperactivity disorders in sensitive children. "At the very least, regulators should track consumption of [artificial food colorings]," concludes the study, which was published in 2004 in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

The studies helped lead Britain's Food Standards Agency in April to recommend a ban on six artificial dyes. The European Union's food safety agency has dismissed the studies as too broad to draw any solid conclusions about the safety of food dyes.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America, an industry group, pointed to the EU decision as evidence that food dyes are safe.

"Based on these findings, there is no need for consumers to alter their purchasing and eating habits and they and their children can safely enjoy food products containing these food colors," Robert Brackett, the group's chief science officer said in a statement.

David W. Schab, MD, a Columbia University psychiatrist who conducted the study, says parents could achieve much of the therapeutic effect of hyperactivity drugs like Ritalin by cutting artificial colorings from the diets of sensitive children.

Other experts agree. In a newly published editorial appearing in BMJ, pediatrics professor Andrew Kemp, MD, of the University of Sydney, called for removal of food additives from the diet to be part of standard initial treatment for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Jacobson said if the FDA won't ban the dyes, they should require foods to carry warnings cautioning about the potential dangers.

FDA officials were not available to comment on the group's petition in time for publication.

Show Sources


Michael Jacobson, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Schab, D. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, December 2004; vol 25: pp 423-434.

David W. Schab, MD, department of psychiatry, Columbia University.

Robert Brackett, chief science officer, Grocery Manufacturers Association.

WebMD Medical News: "Food Additives May Make Kids Hyper."

WebMD Medical News: "Experts Revisit Food Additives and ADHD."

Bateman, B. Archives of Disease in Childhood, June 2004; vol 89: pp 506-511.

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