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New York State Assembly to Hold Hearing on Food Additives, Children's Behavior

Some Food Dyes & Preservatives Linked to Hyperactivity

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Legislators in New York state are exploring the links between certain artificial food additives and behavioral problems in children. Those links have been ignored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), despite the evidence from more than a dozen studies over the past three decades that artificial flavorings and colorings used in food affect some children’s behavior. The New York Assembly’s Standing Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Developmental Disabilities is holding a hearing on the topic Tuesday in New York City.

In testimony prepared for the committee, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) executive director Michael F. Jacobson says that the Assembly should urge the food industry to phase out the use of certain dyes and preservatives, particularly in candies, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, and other foods marketed to and consumed by children. He recommended that New York bar foods containing potentially harmful additives from schools and other facilities that receive government assistance.

“On the one hand, it is surprising that artificial dyes and preservatives are so widely used in children’s foods, given the longstanding concerns about their impact on behavior,” said Jacobson. “But then again, the FDA and other health authorities have shown no interest whatsoever in protecting children—and assisting parents—by mandating, or even encouraging, the use of safer ingredients.”

In a recent British study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, groups of children displayed greater degrees of adverse behavior after consuming a drink containing common food dyes, such as Red 40 and Yellow 5, and the preservative sodium benzoate. Children given a drink without those substances displayed fewer problems. That study spurred the chair of the British Food Standards Agency to express her “astonishment that industry has not moved more quickly to remove these artificial colors from their products.” CSPI first published a guide to Diet, ADHD, and Behavior in 1999.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).