Artificial Food Coloring May Worsen Hyperactivity in Kids

Artificial food coloring may worsen hyperactivity in some children, U.S. regulators said, responding to a petition to ban eight dyes used in food.

Studies suggest that some children with behavioral issues such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder have a “unique intolerance” to substances in food, including chemicals used to make coloring brighter and more attractive, Food and Drug Administration staff said in a report released today. There’s no proof that these dyes cause hyperactivity, the agency said.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA in 2008 to revoke approval for blue, green, orange, red and yellow dyes linked to behavioral changes in hyperactive children in studies. An FDA advisory committee is scheduled to meet next week in Silver Spring, Maryland, to discuss the risks.

“Findings from relevant clinical trials indicate that the effects on their behavior appear to be due to a unique intolerance to these substances and not to any inherent neurotoxic properties,” FDA staff said in the report.

The petition covers Blue Nos. 1 and 2, Green No. 3, Orange B, Red Nos. 3 and 40, and Yellow Nos. 5 and 6. FDA approval of these chemicals dates to the 1960s and is subject to batch certification. The dyes are used to make a variety of candy, beverages, baked goods and sausage. Citrus Red No. 2, used to color orange skins, isn’t intended for processing and wasn’t named in the petition.

Attention-Deficit Disorder

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder affects 3 percent to 5 percent of U.S. children, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Symptoms include fidgeting, excessive talking and abandoning chores and homework. The condition is usually diagnosed in childhood and can continue as an adult.

The Washington-based Center for Science cited studies from 2004 and 2007 that showed a link between food dyes and hyperactivity in children. The amount of color additives certified for use in food has increased and is often greater than the doses that have been tested, the group said.

“It’s probably going to be very difficult for the FDA to ban dyes even if they wanted to,” Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science, said today in a telephone interview. “It’s probably easier for them to require a warning label. Industry will fight it every inch of the way.”

European regulators require warning labels noting that food dyes may affect children’s behavior.

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