Parents of children who show signs of hyperactivity have been advised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that cutting out certain artificial food colours (E numbers
) from their diets might benefit their behaviour. Other people are calling for tougher action.
The move follows publication of new research commissioned by the FSA and published in The Lancet. The study - of 300 children – was carried out by experts at Southampton University. It suggested that eating or drinking certain artificial food colours together with the preservative sodium benzoate could be linked to a negative effect on children’s behaviour. This combination of substances is likely to be found in foods very popular with children, such as soft drinks, ice-cream and sweets.
“This study is a helpful additional contribution to our knowledge of the possible effects of artificial food colours on children’s behaviour,” said Dr Andrew Wadge, the FSA’s Chief Scientist.
If parents are concerned about any additives they should remember that, by law, food additives must be listed on the label so they can make the choice to avoid the product if they want to.
However, Dr Wadge did urge parents to remember that there are “many factors” associated with hyperactive behaviour (which is this context means over-activity, inattention and impulsivity) in children. These may include genetics, being born prematurely, environment and upbringing.
The research was carried out on three-year-old and eight-year-old children. None of them suffered from hyperactivity, but after consuming drinks containing certain additives, their behaviour deteriorated.
What to look out for...
The mix used in the research was as follows:
Sunset yellow (E110)
Quinoline yellow (E104)
Allura red (E129)
Sodium benzoate (E211)
Another mix, which replicated the food colours and preservatives used in a previous study, was also used in the study. Sodium benzoate was included in both mixes.
Parents have long been warned of the effects of food additives on their children's behaviour, and the Food Commission called on manufacturers to voluntarily remove additives from their products. Some of the additives have been banned in other countries around the world.