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Food additives do cause temper tantrums

25th October 2002

Food colourings used in many popular children's foods do cause temper tantrums and disruptive behaviour in up to a quarter of toddlers, according to new government research, revealed today in the Food Magazine. This is the first time a UK government-sponsored scientific study has corroborated the link between food additives and changes in children's mood and behaviour.

Research scientists at the UK's Asthma & Allergy Research Centre, working on behalf of the Food Standards Agency*, concluded that 'significant changes in children's hyperactive behaviour could be produced by the removal of colourings and additives from their diet'. The researchers went further, saying that 'The findings of the present study suggest that benefit would accrue for all children from such a change, and not just for those already showing hyperactive behaviour or who are at risk of allergic reactions.'

Following the study, the Food Commission has found over 100 children's foods and drinks containing one or more of the additives called into question by this research. For further details of these foods and drinks, and a summary of the study, please click on the link at the bottom of this page.

'Nearly 40% of children's foods and drinks contain additives,' explained nutritionist Annie Seeley of the Food Commission, which publishes the Food Magazine. 'Colourings are used to make products look especially appealing to children. The colourings tested in this new research are used in familiar children's foods such as Jammie Dodgers, Smarties, Wagon Wheels, Walkers Football crisps, and Irn Bru and Tizer fizzy drinks. Now that a link between these colourings and disruptive behaviour has been proved, we should remove these additives from children's foods and drinks.'

Technical note: The food additives were tested on 277 three-year-olds from the Isle of Wight. Many parents reported significant changes in behaviour. The additives tested were the artificial food colourings Tartrazine (E102), Sunset Yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), and Ponceau 4R (E124), and the preservative Sodium Benzoate (E211), given in a single drink. The test dose of colourings administered in the trial was well below levels permitted in children's foods and drinks. For the preservative, the test dose was equal to the permitted level. Children are likely to consumer higher doses if they eat several products that contain these additives.

Further information

Click here to view a PDF table of over 200 children's foods and drinks that contain these additives (60KB)

Further information from The Food Commission on 020 7837 2250

The scientific study is available from the Food Standards Agency library, project: T07004, Tel: 020 7276 8060.

Parents concerned that their child may suffer adverse reactions to food additives can get information and advice from the Hyperactive Children's Support Group (HACSG). Send an SAE to: HACSG, 71 Whyke Lane, Chichester, West Sussex P019 2LD; web: http://www.hacsg.org.uk/  Press contact is Nick Giovanelli on 020 8946 4444.

Parents who would like to see additives removed from children's food are invited to join the Food Commission's Parents Jury, which judges foods and drinks aimed at children. Contact: 020 7837 2250; email: parentsjury@foodcomm.org.uk.

* The study was originally sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now disbanded. The Food Standards Agency has inherited the responsibility for research and policy relating to food additives.

The following pages may also be of interest

  • Campaigns: Parents Jury
    The Parents Jury was an independent jury of over 1,300 parents who came together to improve the quality of children's foods and drinks in the UK. The Jury was co-ordinated by The Food Commission.