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T07004: Do food additives cause hyperactivity and behaviour problems in a geographically defined population of 3-5 year olds?

Monday 4 November 2002

This research project aims to find out whether certain food additives influence the behaviour of young children.

Study Duration: July 1997 to June 2000

Contractor: St Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight


This study looked at the influence of certain food additives on the behaviour of three-year-old children.

This study has been reported – see below for details.

Results and findings

This is the report of a three-year intervention study aiming to examine the effects of certain food additives on the behaviour of a cohort of three year-olds. It also aimed to investigate whether being allergic or hyperactive makes the child’s behaviour more vulnerable to these effects.

Children were given either a placebo or an active drink containing the additives sunset yellow, tartrazine, carmoisine, ponceau 4R and sodium benzoate. Children’s behaviour was evaluated by clinic-based psychological tests and by parental reports. The study concluded that the psychological test results did not show any significant effect of the additives on the children’s behaviour, although the parental reports of behaviour did show some effect. Parents observed an improvement in behaviour when the additives were removed from the diet, and an increase in hyperactivity when the children were given the drink containing the additives. These effects were found across the whole group.

Although this research is in line with previous reports, independent medical and scientific experts agree that the evidence is not conclusive, and this therefore remains an area of significant scientific uncertainty.

The Agency is currently considering how to take forward further research in this area

Contact: Dr Joelle Buck
Tel: 020 7276 8516

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