British Study: Artificial Food Additives Linked to Children’s Behavioral Problems

In a new study that may have major implications for the food industry, scientists at the University of Southampton have found what they believe is a definitive link between artificial food additives and hyperactivity and restlessness in young children. The research was commissioned by Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) and is set to be peer-reviewed and published later this year.

Researchers tested six artificial colorings; tartrazine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), quinoline yellow (E104), and allura red AC (E129) and one preservative, sodium benzoate. All of the tested chemicals were associated with some sort of medical risk, including hyperactivity, mood swings, asthma, allergic reactions, and intolerance.

While the FSA and the University refuse to issue any authoritative statements about the study until it is peer-reviewed and published, numerous food-safety experts are urging parents to remove these substances from their children’s diets until more information is released.

Significantly, the new findings support and confirm research that was conducted by the FSA earlier this decade in a project known as the Isle of Wight study. That study noted that “significant changes in children’s behavior could be produced by the removal of colorings and additives from their diet [and] benefit would accrue for all children from such a change and not just for those already showing hyperactive behavior or who are at risk of allergic reactions.” Yet, the FSA had deemed their previous study “inconclusive” because it relied too heavily on “anecdotal evidence,” paving the way for the follow-up research that was recently completed at the University of Southampton.

In a somewhat bizarre posting on the FSA website, FSA chief scientist Andrew Wadge said, “The Agency is currently working with the scientists who carried out this research to ensure the findings go through a rigorous peer-review process and are published in a scientific journal.” Wadge adds that the history of the peer-review process dates back to 1665, and he also makes the point that all of the substances in question are “approved for use and currently permitted for use within the U.K.” (Some of the artificial colors have been banned in the U.S. already.)

To many experts, however, the FSA is engaging in potentially dangerous stall tactics by waiting through the peer-review and publication process. Professor Vyvyan Howard, an FSA expert on food additives, suggested that parents use caution when determining whether or not to include these additives in their children’s diets. “It is biologically plausible that there could be an effect from these additives,” he said, cautiously. “While you are waiting for the results to come out you can choose not to expose your children to these substances. These compounds have no nutritional value and I personally do not feed these sorts of foods to my 15-month-old daughter.”

Professor Tim Lang of London’s City University told The Guardian, “The stakes are very high; these are additives that children have been exposed to for years. I can understand the FSA wanting to be sure no one can accuse it of breaking scientific protocols, but these findings need to come out quickly.”

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