call us on: 01752 895533 or email:

Food additives do cause tantrums & bad behaviour

Food colourings used in many popular children's foods do cause temper tantrums and disruptive behaviour in up to a quarter of toddlers, according to new government research, revealed in the Food Magazine. This is the first time a UK government-sponsored scientific study has corroborated the link between food additives and changes in children's mood and behaviour.

Research scientists at the UK's Asthma & Allergy Research Centre, working on behalf of the Food Standards Agency, concluded that 'significant changes in children's hyperactive behaviour could be produced by the removal of colourings and additives from their diet'. The researchers went further, saying that 'The findings of the present study suggest that benefit would accrue for all children from such a change, and not just for those already showing hyperactive behaviour or who are at risk of allergic reactions.'

Southampton research for The Food Standards Agency also recently printed in the Lancet found a link between taking artificial extras in processed foods and drinks and negative impacts on hyperactivity and concentration levels for children.

Research was carried out with 3 year old and 8 year olds and both sets of tests found the children to be statistically affected (though by different additives and preservatives).  The children became boisterous and lost concentration.  They were unable to play with one toy and couldn’t concentrate on one task.  None of children in the study had ADHD, symptoms of hyperactivity or attention deficit before the study.

The size of the effect was an increase in hyperactivity that represented roughly less than 10% of that seen in a child with ADHD.  This demonstrates an association not cause and effect though is a concern as it was relatively small dosages of additives compared to some children's diets.  

Additives and preservatives are neither needed nor wanted in most types of food.  Clean up the act should be the message the FSA give.  However they are not acting as quickly or firmly as they should and saying it will have to wait until a EU ruling.  They also put the onus back on parents to decide for themselves.  However the Food Safety Authority expects most artificial colourings to be banned or phased out within 2 years.

In the meantime buying and cooking lots of fresh food, avoiding all processed food (unless it is made with quality ingredients (avoiding the need to be flavoured) and made in small batches on a local scale (avoiding need for preservatives as not a huge warehousing supply chain)) and buying organic food which has to avoid additives are all ways of improving diets. 

'Nearly 40% of all children's foods and drinks contain additives,' explained nutritionist Annie Seeley of the Food Commission, which publishes the Food Magazine. 'Colourings are used to make products look especially appealing to children. The colourings tested in this new research are used in familiar children's foods such as Jammie Dodgers, Smarties, Wagon Wheels, Walkers Football crisps, and Irn Bru and Tizer fizzy drinks. Now that a link between these colourings and disruptive behaviour has been proved, we should remove these additives from children's foods and drinks.'

Good quality food and food on our site does not include additives, preservatives or artificial colourings, to our knowledge.

Technical note:
The food additives were tested on 277 three-year-olds from the Isle of Wight. Many parents reported significant changes in behaviour. The additives tested were the artificial food colourings Tartrazine (E102), Sunset Yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), and Ponceau 4R (E124), and the preservative Sodium Benzoate (E211), given in a single drink. The test dose of colourings administered in the trial was well below levels permitted in children's foods and drinks. For the preservative, the test dose was equal to the permitted level. Children are likely to consumer higher doses if they eat several products that contain these additives.

A good source of further information can be found from The Food Commission. They have a great Parent's Jury section with really interesting articles relevant to children's food.

Story published in the Food Magazine (issue 59, October/December 2002), pages 1 & 3

The scientific study is available from the Food Standards Agency library, project: T07004, Tel: 020 7276 8060.

Parents concerned that their child may suffer adverse reactions to food additives can get information and advice from the Hyperactive Children's Support Group (HACSG). Send an SAE to: HACSG, 71 Whyke Lane, Chichester, West Sussex P019 2LD; web: 

The best website we have come across for use with secondary aged children independently is Chew on This

The Food Standards Agency has inherited the responsibility for research and policy relating to food additives.




Latest News

  • Tell me what food is seasonal now... [more]
  • Free range chicken and produce... [more]
  • Cut your own herbs and cut costs... [more]
  • Children and Young People's Diets... [more]

Subscribe to RSS Feed

Newsletter Sign Up

Click here to sign up to our newsletter

© Website by WNW Digital