Does Artificial Food Coloring Contribute to ADHD in Children?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintains artificial food dyes are safe but some research studies have found the dyes can contribute to hyperactive behavior in children. Food dyes have been controversial since pediatrician Benjamin Feingold published findings in the 1970s that suggested a link between artificial colors and hyperactive behavior, but scientists, consumers and the government have not yet reached a consensus on the extent of this risk or the correct path to address it.

After a 2007 study in the U.K. showed that artificial colors and/or the common preservative sodium benzoate increased hyperactivity in children, the European Union started requiring food labels indicating that a product contains any one of six dyes that had been investigated. The label states the product “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” The FDA convened a Food Advisory Committee meeting in 2011 to review the existing research, and concluded that there was not sufficient evidence proving that foods with artificial colors caused hyperactivity in the general population. The FDA also decided that further research was needed, and that a label disclosing a possible link between dyes and hyperactivity was unnecessary.

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