Food Additives Increase
Hyperactivity in Children

This section was compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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FROM: Arch Dis Child 2004 (Jun);   89 (6):   506–511

Bateman B, Warner JO, Hutchinson E, Dean T, Rowlandson P,
Gant C, Grundy J, Fitzgerald C, Stevenson J

Infection, Inflammation and Repair Division,
University of Southampton,
Southampton, UK

In the June issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood, Dr. John O. Warner from Southampton General Hospital, UK, and colleagues reported on their study on the impact of artificial food colorings and benzoate preservative on the behavior of 277 preschool children.

At the start, 36 children had hyperactivity and allergies, 75 were only hyperactive, 79 had only allergies, and 87 did not have either condition. Parents’ ratings of their child’s hyperactivity fell after withdrawal of food additives from the children’s diets, the team reports, and there was an increase in hyperactivity when food additives were re-introduced.

Parental hyperactivity ratings increased significantly when children were exposed to food additives regardless of their hyperactivity status or the presence of allergies at the start of the study.

“Additives do have an effect on overactive behavior independent of baseline allergic and behavioral status,” Warner told Reuters Health. He added, “We do not yet know which artificial additives are important in relation to behavior or whether the list extends to other natural equivalents.”

The Abstract

The Effects of a Double Blind, Placebo Controlled, Artificial Food Colourings and Benzoate Preservative Challenge on Hyperactivity in a General Population Sample of Preschool Children

AIMS:   To determine whether artificial food colourings and a preservative in the diet of 3 year old children in the general population influence hyperactive behaviour.

METHODS:   A sample of 1873 children were screened in their fourth year for the presence of hyperactivity at baseline (HA), of whom 1246 had skin prick tests to identify atopy (AT). Children were selected to form the following groups: HA/AT, not-HA/AT, HA/not-AT, and not-HA/not-AT (n = 277). After baseline assessment, children were subjected to a diet eliminating artificial colourings and benzoate preservatives for one week; in the subsequent three week within subject double blind crossover study they received, in random order, periods of dietary challenge with a drink containing artificial colourings (20 mg daily) and sodium benzoate (45 mg daily) (active period), or a placebo mixture, supplementary to their diet. Behaviour was assessed by a tester blind to dietary status and by parents' ratings.

RESULTS:   There were significant reductions in hyperactive behaviour during the withdrawal phase. Furthermore, there were significantly greater increases in hyperactive behaviour during the active than the placebo period based on parental reports. These effects were not influenced by the presence or absence of hyperactivity, nor by the presence or absence of atopy. There were no significant differences detected based on objective testing in the clinic.

CONCLUSIONS:   There is a general adverse effect of artificial food colouring and benzoate preservatives on the behaviour of 3 year old children which is detectable by parents but not by a simple clinic assessment. Subgroups are not made more vulnerable to this effect by their prior levels of hyperactivity or by atopy.

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