Author’s note: This post is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This “re-post” of sorts is in response to the high degree of interest in this topic. See this blog’s archives for additional posts and links…. In addition: An article on this subject will appear as the July “Child Care Support Network” CE training for child care (e.g. daycare) providers. To find out more, check out the “CCSN” link at

What makes a child behave appropriately? Misbehave? A child’s behavior is affected by many factors – one of the least known of which is the effect that certain foods can have on children’s behavior. The principle additives addressed in these posts are artificial food coloring and so-called “bad” sugars.

The adverse effects of artificial food coloring have surprised many parents.

The following is a brief sampling of parents’ testimonies posted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) at :

“My daughter is highly sensitive to food dyes (especially Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Red 40), and can change from being able to sit and read quietly or do a whole page of addition problems to not being able to sit at all, sometimes running in circles uncontrollably when she is exposed to these food dyes.” – A.E., New Mexico.

“[My child] becomes very disoriented, confused and frustrated after consuming foods with artificial food coloring. He is unable to focus and prone to extremely angry outbursts resulting in a complete loss of control – violently striking out and screaming uncontrollably.” – N.M., New Jersey.

These symptoms went TOTALLY away [from avoiding dyes]. Artificial preservatives may cause some issues, but artificial dyes are a definite.” – T.L. in Alabama.

More Scientific Evidence

In addition to the CSPI, other research-based organizations back up parents’ claims. In 1987 the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group (HACSG), with the support of Professor Neil Ward, the group’s scientific director, found that, out of a total of 357 children who had been diagnosed as hyperactive, 87% had adverse reactions to artificial colorings and 72% to artificial preservatives in food. Similar results were discovered in 1993 at the Institute of Child Health.

More recently, a 2007 study has become a flashpoint in the current debate. In it, 3- and 8-year-olds were given two types of drinks that contained a mix of dyes. Afterward, parents reported a significant increase in hyperactivity – while teachers and independent observers did not. In addition, because the dyes were mixed together, it was hard to tell which might be causing a problem.

Despite concerns with the British study, European legislators now require a warning label on foods that contain artificial dyes. It lets parents know their kids might become hyperactive if they consume the product.

The studies have caused some experts in the U.S. to urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban foods containing food coloring – or at least require a warning label. The CSPI, for example, wants the FDA to ban eight artificial food dyes – particularly Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6. These substances comprise 90% of the food dyes on the market.

Thursday: Effect of sugar on behavior.

Friday: Recommendations.