Food additives linked with hyperactivity – again!

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’.

7 Responses to Food additives linked with hyperactivity – again!

  1. deborah booth 11 May 2007 at 2:19 pm #

    Dear John, I am staggered that again this subject has hit the headlines and still nothing has been withdrawn, for certainly more than 25 years ago I had to keep my son (now 31) away from colourings, especially Tartrazine, because it made him hyperactive and generably unreasonably behaved. There was much in the media then, but I had not thought of it much in the intervening years as I naively had assumed that all such horrors had long been removed from our foodstuffs. Most things “processed” now, not that I see much, seem to have “no artificial…..” on the outside, again I am staggered that anything, especially stuff aimed at childrn like sweets still contain these ingredients! I always enjoy your newsletter, keep it coming! Deborah.

  2. ally 11 May 2007 at 5:38 pm #

    that old chestnut again.

    Has anyone stopped to question whether parental discipline has anything to do with – not just diet.

    I see so many parents just giving in to bad behaviour and then blaming the food they give their kids – its too easy these days

  3. Tiggy 11 May 2007 at 7:58 pm #

    I had a bad reaction to the food colouring in Indian Rose flavour cordial. I love it made into a milkshake and was having one most days and it made me feel aggressive. Before I realised this, my nephew had some and he practically had convulsions; crying hysterically and very uncharacteristically and shaking for ages. We’ve never seen him like it before or since. You can get versions without that particular colouring, which I think is called Carnadine.

  4. Tiggy 11 May 2007 at 8:09 pm #

    Sorry, maybe it was Carmoisine (E122), though Carnadine is red according to Lady MacBeth when she said that the blood she shed would, ‘the multitudinous seas incarnadine.’

  5. Christine 17 May 2007 at 2:48 pm #

    My son, now 30, was diagnosed ‘hyperactive’ aged 3 and fortunately an enlightened GP told me about additives, which undoubtedly played a large part in my son’s behaviour. And yes, Ally, I also had to learn some painful lessons about assertiveness and discipline, family dynamics, breaking patterns etc. but diet is not an excuse for poor discipline. My son would change in front of our eyes after eating certain foods. I find it shocking that a quarter of a century later we are still poisoning our children – and then punishing them (or drugging them) for being unmanageable.

  6. ally 17 May 2007 at 8:01 pm #

    i know that some kids react to colourings but there are alot of kids who dont and parents are using them as an excuse. i see it with friends kids. What makes me laugh is that my generation ate loads of them in sweets in the 60s and how strange that kids were better behaved! I dont believe its the additives at all – its the rubbish feed their kids and too much sugar.

  7. Leigh Anne 19 August 2008 at 9:51 pm #

    I agree that it is so easy to blame our children’s behavior on outside influences when indeed the parents are failing to properly discipline their children. It seems we create excuses for everything rather than taking responsibility these days. And of course, altering the diet will not create miracles.
    But I have also seen my daughter’s behavior change dramatically after I eliminated processed food from her diet, even though my parenting and discipline remained exactly the same. She is not as irritable, she sleeps better, and while she still has boundless energy, she is more focused and has better self-control.

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