Food Additives May Increase Hyperactivity in Children
October 25, 2007—The relationship between food additives and hyperactivity has been debated for more than three decades. Now a new study published in The Lancet finds that artificial food additives, such as food coloring and preservatives, may increase hyperactivity in children.
The study randomly assigned 153 three-year-old children and 144 eight- and nine-year-old children to receive a drink containing 45 mg of the preservative sodium benzoate and one of two mixes that contained artificial food coloring (active group) or a placebo drink. The three-year-old children received 300 ml per day of the respective drinks and the 9-year-old children received 625 ml per day.
The children’s ability to concentrate and their behaviors such as inattention, interrupting, talking a lot, wriggling, and restlessness were rated by parents, teachers, and trained observers for three, eight-minute observation sessions each week during the six-week study.
The children were scored based on three measures of behavior including the Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Rating Scale-IV, the Weiss-Werry-Peters Hyperactivity Scale, and a classroom observation code which assessed components of hyperactivity.
The children in both age groups who received the active drink had higher hyperactivity scores compared with children who drank the placebo. The authors conclude that their findings “lend strong support for the case that food additives exacerbate behaviors (inattention, impulsivity, and overactivity) in children at least up to middle childhood.”
Though previous research in this area has often failed to find a connection between additives and hyperactivity in children, most of these studies had important flaws. For example, one compared the effect of a chocolate cookie that contained food additives to a chocolate cookie without the additives. Because some children probably reacted to the sugar or chocolate in the cookie, putting additives in a chocolate cookie is not a reliable way to determine whether the additives cause symptoms.
While it is unclear whether the sodium benzoate preservative or the food coloring had more of an effect on the children’s behavior, this new study was well-designed and supports a large body of evidence that some children react poorly to certain food additives.
(Lancet 2007 September 6;doi:10.1016/S01406736(07)61306-3; e-pub)
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Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.
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