“Emily, Please Step Away from That Soft Drink!”

Summary and Comment |
October 22, 2007

“Emily, Please Step Away from That Soft Drink!”

  1. Barbara Geller, MD

A community-based study finds some signs of hyperactivity in children with daily intake of artificial food additives.

  1. Barbara Geller, MD

Artificial food colorings and additives (AFCA) have been associated with higher hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention scores in preschoolers. Now, researchers perform a similar community-based study among 153 children age 3 years and 144 children ages 8 to 9.

For 6 weeks, the children’s diet was devoid of AFCA (essentially, red and yellow dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate). Children were then randomized to one of three study arms for a period of 2 weeks; two arms involved daily drink supplements containing AFCA (mix A and a stronger mix B), and the third involved a drink with similar taste and appearance but no AFCA. All children were eventually crossed over to the other two arms. Parents and teachers rated hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention; the older children also underwent a test of attention.

Attrition and diet infractions were minimal; 67% of the younger group and 68% of the older group drank at least 85% of all liquids. Scores were significantly worse among the younger group on mix A than on placebo and among the older group on both mixes. These results persisted when analyses were limited to participants with at least 85% adherence and complete data.

Comment

The authors note that they did not control for time between intake and ratings, which might have confounded the results; however, confounding would have occurred across groups. Despite the low effect size (0.2), these findings are worth noting, given the increasing rates of certain childhood psychiatric disorders with possible environmental influences (e.g., autism). Parents often ask about the safety of food additives. These findings suggest an effect on children’s behavior, but the long-term implications remain unknown.

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