Many children's foods contain AFCAs (artificial food color and additives) which fuel hyperactive behaviors in children, according to a report published today in The Lancet. The writers say these AFCAs have a significant effect, at least up to middle childhood. The AFCA impact is general, it does not limit itself just to children who are already extremely hyperactive, such as those with ADHD, say the researchers.
A previous study* suggested levels of hyperactivity in 3-year-old children were significantly raised after they were given a specific mix of food additives - according to parental ratings. (*Bateman B, Warner JO, Hutchinson E. et al. The Effects of as double blind, placebo controlled, artificial food colorings and benzoate preservative challenge on hyperactivity in a general population sample of preschool children. Arch Dis childhood 2004; 89: 506-11)
The authors say they are not sure whether their findings apply to older children. However, they ask whether the general levels of hyperactivity in children in the general population might not go down significantly if AFCAs were withdrawn completely.
When levels of hyperactivity in a child are raised he/she risks experiencing challenging developmental and educational difficulties, especially with regard to his/her reading skills. The adverse effects of AFCA, write the authors, have a detrimental effect on a child's ability to benefit from schooling.
Jim Stevenson, University of Southampton, UK and team looked at the effects of additives on changes in children's behavior in a community-based, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover trial. The trial was sponsored by the Food Standards Agency (UK). A double-blind placebo trial means neither the people being observed, nor those giving the target medications/products/chemicals know who is getting the real thing and who is getting the placebo.
The study involved 153 children aged 3, plus 144 children aged 8-9. They were given either a drink containing sodium benzoate plus one of two AFCA mixes, or a placebo drink. The two AFCA mixes contained: Mix 1 - the same ingredients used in the previous study. Mix B -what the average 3 year-old and 8-9 year old may be consuming today. The children's behaviors were measured by a GHA (global hyperactivity aggregate) - this is based on teachers' and parents' ratings, along with a computerized test for attention (just for the 8-9 year-olds).
The researchers found that:
-- Mix A had a significant adverse effect on children in GHA for all the 3 year-olds, compared to the placebo.
-- Mix B produced mixed results for 3 year-olds
-- Both Mix A and Mix B had significant adverse effects on the 8-9 year olds, compared to the 8-9 year-olds on the placebo
-- Children vary greatly in their levels of adverse effects from consuming AFCA
"Although the use of artificial coloring in food manufacture might seem to be superfluous, the same cannot be said for sodium benzoate, which has an important preservative function. The implications of these results for the regulation of food additive use could be substantial," concluded the authors.
Written by: Christian Nordqvist
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