What Food Additives can do to Your Child
Posted on : 2007-09-06
Author : Emma Price
News Category : Health
The causes for hyperactivity in children are many and varied. Now there is a new one on record- food colorings and additives in sweets, snack foods processed foods and fizzy drinks.
There have long been suspicions about the link between food colorings and additives and hyperactivity. In fact, people concerned with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have been all for excluding them from food, even while scientists were wary of supporting the move. Now researchers have for the very first time convincingly and systematically established the connection between the two.
As a result of a closely monitored investigation it was proven that artificial additives do indeed accelerate hyperactivity in children and affect their concentration.
A report of the conclusions drawn has been published on line in the Thursday edition of Lancet, the British medical journal.
For six weeks the researchers distributed drinks containing preservatives and colors similar to those mixed in common commercial drinks to a group of three year old children and children from eight to nine who had been selected at random.
The researchers estimated that the amount of additives ingested by the child added up to a bag of candy each day. Otherwise the diets were monitored to see that they contained no other additives.
A second group of children in the same age groups were given a placebo drink which was additive free but appeared and tasted similar to the first drink.
Then teachers and parents were asked to evaluate the children's hyperactivity and inattention with the help of a computer test without being informed of which drink the child had been given.
It was found that the children were noticeably more hyperactive and had shorter attention spans on consuming the additives.
Jim Stevenson, Psychology Professor and leader of the Food Standards study that was sponsored by the British Food Standards Agency, explained, "We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colors and benzoate preservative can adversely influence the behavior of children.
"We have now shown that for a large group of children in the general population, consumption of certain mixtures of artificial food colors and benzoate preservative can influence their hyperactive behavior,” he continued.
"However, parents should not think that simply taking these additives out of food will prevent all hyperactive disorders, he cautioned, concluding, "We know that many other influences are at work but this at least is one a child can avoid."
The investigation paid particular attention to the common preservative, sodium benzoate. However they also realized that very often the preservative was essential to discourage the spoilage of food.
Although the study did not attempt to associate any particular additive or color with any particular behavior they noted that other researchers had considered the idea that the children became hyperactive within an hour after consuming certain artificial additives.
This study could not pinpoint which additives were responsible for this because all the children were given a mix of additives and not a particular one.
"This was a very complicated study, and it will take an even more complicated study to figure out which components caused the effect," Stevenson said.
As a result of the study the British Food Agency has advised parents to have an eye on their children's activities. If a conspicuous change was noticed after consuming food with additives parents should regulate their child's diet and do away with artificial preservatives and colors.
Stevenson felt that at this time it was premature to go further. "We've set up an issue that needs more exploration," he was quoted as saying.
Some doctors looked at it differently.
"Even if it shows some increase in hyperactivity, is it clinically significant and does it impact the child's life?" an expert in pediatric psychopharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Tom Spencer asked. "Is it powerful enough that you want to ostracize your kid? It is very socially impacting if children can't eat the things that their friends do."
In spite of this he considered the advice given by the food agency to be sensible and pointed out that it may be that some children were "super sensitive to additives" in the same way that certain people are more sensitive than others to caffeine.
Parents have been advised to read food labels when buying products for their children.
In the meantime, a spokesman for the campaign group, The Food Commission called upon food manufacturers to "clean up their act" and voluntarily remove the additives from their products.