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Parents have long suspected that artificial food colourings and preservatives are linked to hyperactive behaviour in children. Now they have data. In a placebo controlled trial with a double blind cross over design, children were significantly more hyperactive during weeks when they were given additives than during weeks when all additives were removed from their diet. The effect was small but measurable in 3 year olds and in children aged 8-9, particularly those children who complied best with the trial's protocol.
Researchers tested two mixes of additives containing a sodium benzoate and a smaller (mix A) or larger (mix B) amount of commonly used colourings. The 153 children aged 3 were most affected by mix A. The 91 most compliant 8-9 year olds were affected by both. Parents and teachers rated their behaviour using established scales, from which the researchers derived an aggregate score.
These results add to a growing body of evidence linking food additives to hyperactive behaviour in children. But it is not yet clear which additives are responsible. This trial tested a combination of sodium benzoate, sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), tartrazine (E102), and ponceau 4R (E124), all commonly found in sweets.