London: The UK Government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has confirmed fears that artificial colours in children’s foods can make them behave badly.
The FSA tested a range of E-numbers on two groups of children and discovered that youngsters found it more difficult to sit still and concentrate, had problems reading and became loud and impulsive. The additives tested are commonly used in the sweets, biscuits, soft drinks and ice cream consumed by millions of British children. But the FSA will not order a ban on them.
The research was carried out by scientists from the UK’s Southampton University and involved almost 300 children published in the medical journal The Lancet.
The children in the six-week Southampton trial were split into two groups – one of 153 three-year-olds and the other of 144 eight and nine-year-olds.
The additives tested were tartrazine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), quinoline yellow (E104) and allura red AC (E129). and the preservative sodium benzoate, commonly found in soft drinks.
Initially, all the children were changed to diets that did not include artificial additives to set a benchmark.
They were then given daily fruit juice drinks, In some weeks, these contained a mixture of additives, in others they were pure.
The children’s behaviour was monitored by parents, teachers and independent observers.
None of the participants in the study knew what drinks the children were receiving, to ensure the results were not skewed.
In both groups, children were more hyperactive in the weeks they consumed a cocktail of additives.
One of the additive mixes, designed to mimic what a child might be expected to consume in one day, produced what the scientists believe was a ‘significant’ change in behaviour in the older children.
The other mix produced a more profound response in the younger group.
Professor Jim Stevenson, who led the research, said: “We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservative can adversely influence the behaviour of children.”