Food colors linked to attention and activity problems in children
Synthetic dyes used as dyes in many common foods and drinks can negatively affect children’s attention and activity, according to a comprehensive review of existing evidence released this month by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) .
Funded by the California Legislature in 2018, the new report included a literature review, a scientific symposium for experts, a peer review process and a public comment period. His findings on the behavioral effects of food colors are based on the results of 27 clinical trials in children from four continents over the past 45 years, as well as animal studies and research into the mechanisms by which the colors exert their effects. behavioral effects.
Food colors in products such as breakfast cereals, juices and soft drinks, frozen dairy desserts, candies, and icings have been linked to adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children, including inattention, hyperactivity and restlessness. Animal studies have also shown effects on activity, memory and learning.
The report is the most rigorous assessment of the behavioral effects of food colors ever, said Lisa Lefferts, senior scientist at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, based in Washington, DC. (Editor’s note: Lefferts previously worked as an editor at EHN).
Lefferts followed the problem for years and through the Center published it own report on the link between synthetic food colors and behavioral problems in children in 2016. In it, she called on the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revoke approvals for all food colors or institute a federal labeling rule.
The European Union enacted such a law in 2010 which requires most dyed foods to carry a label warning consumers that food colors “may have a detrimental effect on the activity and attention of children”. In response, many food manufacturers have reformulated their products for the European market to avoid colorings, and therefore the label.
But many have left the dyes in their products for the U.S. market, where awareness of the problem has remained low, Lefferts said. “In our experience, most consumers have no idea that something that is cleared into the food supply by the FDA could trigger unwanted behavior,” she told EHN.
A California State Senate Bill introduced in February and backed by the new report would require a similar warning label on foods sold in the state. But it was abruptly removed from the Senate Health Committee on April 28, the day of its scheduled hearing, by the godfather, Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).
In a press release, Wieckowski said he had withdrawn the bill “to take more time to educate other senators and ensure they understand the science in the OEHHA report” given that ‘it had only been published 12 days earlier. The bill, which Lefferts said she sees as a wedge for widespread reformulation of dyed foods in the United States, is now expected to be heard in January 2022.
Widespread exposure to food colors
Photo credit: jessica / flickr
The FDA last formally examined the matter in 2011, when it concluded that a causal link between the consumption of synthetic color additives by children and the behavioral effects had not been established. At the time, the agency also ordered a exposure assessment of the seven color additives approved for use in foods in the United States: FD&C Blue # 1, Blue # 2, Green # 3, Red # 3, Red # 40, Yellow # 5, and Yellow # ° 6.
The results of this study, presented later in 2014, found that between 2007 and 2010, certain dyes were consumed almost daily by up to 98% of children aged 2 to 5, 95% of adolescents aged 13. -18 and 94 percent of the entire US population aged 2 and over.
“Exposure in children affects attention and behavior across the spectrum of the population, and it is widespread exposure,” Mark Miller, OEHHA medical officer of health and one of the 13 authors of the report. “Overall, this means the impact is likely to be quite large.”
Mechanistic studies reviewed by Miller and the other authors of the report reveal that food colors can impact behavior through a variety of pathways, including neurotransmitters, hormones, and oxidative stress. More research is needed on how dyes are absorbed, distributed, and metabolized in the body, they note.
An FDA spokesperson said the agency received and is reviewing the report. “The FDA will continue to engage in the scientific and regulatory review of color additives to assess their potential impact on various populations, including children, and will act as necessary to ensure that products marketed to consumers are safe and correctly. labeled, “the statement read. .
“Parents who wish to limit synthetic color additives in their children’s diets can look at the list of food ingredients on the labels, where they must be listed.”
Banner photo: Food colors in products such as breakfast cereals have been linked to adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children. (Credit: Harris County Public Library / flickr)