Food Additives Play
'Substantial' Role
In Hyperactivity

By Andre Picard
The Globe and Mail
Food additives such as colourings and preservatives seem to play a "substantial" role in making young children hyperactive and prone to tantrums, new research suggests.
During the study, conducted on a group of British three-year-olds, parents said their children were markedly more active, inattentive and short-tempered when fed a diet heavy in food additives and noticeably calmer when their diet was stripped of additives.
In fact, the number of children classified as hyperactive fell to 6 per cent from 15 per cent with the change in diet, according to research published this week in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
John Warner, a professor in the Department of Child Health at the University of Southampton in England, said while the findings should be interpreted with caution, they could have potentially huge public-health repercussions for children.
That is because previous research has shown that young hyperactive children are at high risk of continuing behavioural difficulties, such as poor social adaptation and educational problems.
"These findings suggest that significant changes in children's hyperactive behaviour could be produced by the removal of artificial colourings and preservatives from their diet," Dr. Warner said.
The study was conducted over a four-week period on 277 children living on the Isle of Wight.
During the first week, their diet was stripped of all artificial colourings and preservatives. During the next three weeks, the children were given an extra glass of juice daily: The drink was either "spiked" with 20 milligrams daily of food colourings such as tartrazine, sunset yellow, and carmoisine, as well as with 45 milligrams of the common preservative sodium benzoate, or it contained a placebo.
According to the British Food Commission, about 40 per cent of food and drinks marketed to children contain these additives, in doses similar to those added by the research team.
Parents involved in the study were not aware when the children were getting extra food additives, but were asked to keep a daily diary of their behaviour. During the period when they were getting extra colourings and preservatives in their diet, the children were notably more hyperactive.
Dr. Warner said researchers were not able to note this increase in hyperactivity in any formal test, so that left him a bit "dubious" about the results. But he added that with young children, the observations of parents are probably accurate, so the results should be probed further.
He also said it was important that the study was done on a broad cross-section of children. Much of the earlier research was conducted on children who were already hyperactive, and it was largely inconclusive.
In this case, children who, before entering the study, had been diagnosed as hyperactive or as suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, were not unduly affected by the food additives. Rather, children were affected across the board.
The link between food additives and children's health was a popular media topic in the late 1970s. In fact, U.S. allergist Benjamin Feingold published the popular Feingold diet, in which he advocated a diet free of more than 300 food additives to treat hyperactivity. But in 1982, a panel of the U.S. National Institutes of Health determined there was no scientific evidence to support the claims that colourings and preservatives caused hyperactivity.
Interest in the subject, however, has been renewed by the escalating rates of ADHD in children.
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