Which? uses cookies to improve our sites and by continuing you agree to our cookies policy

Food additives can cause hyperactivity, study says

Children are affected by colours and preservatives


Four children eating in a kitchen

A major study into the effects of food additives shows that it could trigger hyperactivity in children.

The study found that many children, not just those suffering from extreme hyperactive conditions, can become impulsive, inattentive and hyperactive from the cocktail of artificial extras found in drinks, sweets and processed foods, according to the research published in The Lancet.

The Food Standards Agency-commissioned study (FSA) recorded the responses of 300 three and four-year-olds to different drinks and found that artificial food colour and additives were having a harmful effect.

It is now sending the findings to the European Food Safety Authority which is currently reviewing the safety of all EU permitted food colours.

Clear evidence

Psychology Professor Jim Stevenson, who led the study, said: ‘We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and preservative can adversely influence the behaviour of children.

‘However, parents should not think that simply taking these additives out of food will prevent all hyperactive disorders. We know that many other influences are at work, but this at least is one a child can avoid.’

He considered that some children could benefit from the removal of certain food colours from their diet.

Sue Davies, Which? policy advisor, commented: ‘It is important that the FSA works with the food industry to remove these additives from all foods, prioritising those that children are likely to eat. This must also be a priority for the European Food Safety Authority.’

Read the label

Meanwhile Dr Andrew Wadge, the FSA’s chief scientist, gave this advice to parents: ‘If parents are concerned about any additives they should remember that, by law, food additives must be listed on the label so they can make the choice to avoid the product if they want to.’

The children in the study were chosen as a snapshot of the general population. Each was put on additive-free diets and then given drinks which either contained mixtures of additives or plain fruit juice.

Two mixes of artificial colours were used in the study. Mix A replicated the food colours and preservatives used in a previous study and consisted of: Sunset Yellow (E110), Tartrazine (E102), Carmoisine (E122), Ponceau 4R (E124), Sodium Benzoate (E211).

Mix B consisted of: Sunset Yellow (E110), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Carmoisine (E122), Allura Red (E129), Sodium Benzoate (E211).

Back to top