On Wednesday and Thursday, the U.S Food and Drug Administration will ask a panel to review the evidence for a possible link between food colorings and behavioral changes in children. Depending on the panel’s conclusions, foods that use the likes of red dye #3 may have to have labels warning parents that the bright yellow, red, blue, etc. colorings in that shimmering bowl of Jello might cause hyperactivity.
As the New York Times says, the FDA outruled a link between food colorings and behavior or health problems years ago. However, anecdotal reports continue to circulate among parents and in the vast unregulated encyclopedia that the Internet has become.
A few studies, such as one published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 2007, have found that artificial food colorings “might lead” to behavioral changes in some children. A consumer advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, would like the FDA to ban the dyes or at least to make it necessary for the government to provide warnings that “artificial colorings in this food cause hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some children.”
Two quotes in the New York Times, one from a parent and one from a doctor, illustrate the differing views about the effects of food dyes on children:
Renee Shutters, a mother of two from Jamestown, N.Y., said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that two years ago, her son Trenton, then 5, was having serious behavioral problems at school until she eliminated artificial food colorings from his diet. “I know for sure I found the root cause of this one because you can turn it on and off like a switch,” Ms. Shutters said. But Dr. Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., said evidence that diet plays a significant role in most childhood behavioral disorders was minimal to nonexistent. “These are urban legends that won’t die,” Dr. Diller said.
Parents, who of course observe and interact with their children constantly, see notable changes in behavior and energy levels after consumption of foods like Cheetos, Kraft macaroni and cheese and the like. Doctors and other medical professionals refer to scientific studies which find either no, or limited, evidence of a link. Parents then feel frustrated that doctors are not listening to them and a frustrating cycle results.
I’ve long watched out for the presence of food dyes in what our son Charlie eats, as he has little language, and not enough to tell us how a certain food makes him feel. I haven’t seen any actual connection—it’s frankly hard to tell what might lead to Charlie needing to run a few laps on the neighborhood streets—though I do have to say: My husband has (actually diagnosed) severe ADHD and, by his own account, his hyperactivity is something that just occurs, regardless of what he eats or what he does not.
Let’s hope the FDA’s panels lead to some more conclusive studies. If the panel does conclude that the public needs more warnings about the potential effects of food coloring, certainly, labels on foods would not be a bad thing and might at least help parents to make thoughtful choices about the foods they are giving their kids.
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