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FDA: Can food dye cause hyperactive kids?

FDA:  Can food dye cause hyperactive kids?
FDA: Can food dye cause hyperactive kids?

After decades of use in foods many Americans eat every day, the Food and Drug Administration is exploring whether a connection exists between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity in children.

In Gilbert, one mom swears that red dye can cause temper tantrums and hyperactivity in her daughter. After a suggestion from a family friend, she experimented with a closely watched diet eliminating dyes completely. The result was a calmer, happier child. Was it a coincidence? That is the question before the FDA.

Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, would like to see them banned altogether, while other experts believe a warning label on foods containing certain dyes would be sufficient.

The Gilbert mother is not alone in seeking behavior changes through dietary changes. In the 1970's, Benjamin Feingold was among the first to claim a link between hyperactive behavior and food dyes.

The diet he prescribed eliminated food dyes and other food additives, like the common preservatives BHT and BHA.

Artificial food dyes might be an easy target for elimination because they aren't essential to food...or is it? Finding foods at the grocery store without food dye is no small feat.

According to NPR, CSPI wants the FDA to ban eight artificial food dyes. Jacobson is particularly concerned with Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6, which make up 90 percent of the food dyes on the market.

On Wednesday, the FDA released its analysis of 35 years of scientific studies. It finds no conclusive proof that food dyes cause hyperactivity in most kids, although it suggests that some kids with ADHD may be particularly sensitive to them.

Plenty of skeptical pediatricians are of the opinion that current studies leave room for doubt.


The ability to test for single chemical substances is difficult. Some tests combined several dyes together, making it difficult to say if one dye or another might possibly be a problem. Also, some of the FDA studies are based on observations of the child after they consumed drinks with a mix of dyes. In observations, parents, teachers and independent observers often came to differing conclusions. Who's observation was "correct"?

European lawmakers currently require a warning label on foods that contain artificial dyes. It informs parents that their kids might become hyperactive if they consume the product. This move has lead some companies to use natural dyes, but the food industry is quick to point out the increased cost of such a move.

What is a parent to do? One very healthy option is to simply limit processed food. The "fun" oatmeal that changes colors while your child eats may provide a healthy dose of entertainment...along with a heaping dose of dye.

This story was reported on Morning Edition.

Sources:, Morning Edition, KJZZ


Tracy Lynn Cook is a writer in Gilbert, Arizona. To read more, please visit her blog at, or browse by topic:

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Tracy can be found on Facebook (Tracy Lynn Cook) and on Twitter @TLCsThoughts.


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