Food Dyes Suspected Of Causing Behavioral Problems In Kids

CHICAGO (CBS) — Is it possible that artificial colors added to our food could be causing behavioral problems in children?

Concerns about synthetic food dyes led many manufacturers in Europe to stop using then.  But as CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports, the dyes are used here in everything from cereal to crackers to toothpaste.

Doctors diagnosed Kendall King with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, last year and put her on powerful drugs.

But her mother, Kelly King, says, “It just didn’t feel right to me.”

The Kings heard about a possible connection between food dyes and hyperactivity.  Within weeks of taking dyes out of her diet, Kendall no longer needed medication.

“We’ve had amazing results,” Kelly King says. “She’s like a whole new child and she’s herself again.”

Food manufacturers in the U.S. can use nine dyes in all. Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 make up 90 percent of the market.  You see them everywhere, listed on a bright cereal box or a pickle jar. The colors are used in everything from cough syrup and toothpaste to waffles and crackers.

“They’re really ubiquitous in this food supply that we’ve created,” says Dr. David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

He says more than two dozen studies point to problems with the dyes. But, do we know if changing a child’s diet dramatically improves ADHD?

“The effect is generally very small,” Dr. Mark Stein of the University of Illinois says. “It’s about a fourth as large as the effect of an ADHD medicine.”

The FDA voted against putting warning labels on foods, but it believes more research is still needed. Still, some grocery chains, like Whole Foods, won’t sell synthetic dyes.

Warning labels are required in much of Europe. American companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills and Kraft did away with the artificial dyes overseas.  So, some foods in Europe, like M&M’s, just aren’t as bright.

Kelly King would like to see the synthetic dyes eliminated in the U.S.

“Our house is just a much calmer place to be,” she says.

A statement from the FDA says it does not believe that artificial food dyes cause hyperactivity in children in the general population.  However, the FDA says food dyes may exacerbate problems in susceptible children diagnosed with ADHD because they may have a unique intolerance to them.

The FDA is now reassessing safety studies relating to food dyes.  Here is the agency’s full, unedited statement:

“Based on the data reviewed in the body of scientific literature, FDA last year concluded that a causal relationship between exposure to color additives and hyperactivity in children in the general population has not been established.

However, for certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors, the data suggest that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, artificial food colors. Findings from relevant clinical trials indicate that the effects on their behavior appear to be due to a unique intolerance to these substances and not to any inherent neurotoxic properties.

FDA’s Food Advisory Committee (FAC) (a group of advisors from outside the FDA) met on March 30-31, 2011 to consider available relevant data on the possible association between the consumption of certified color additives in food and adverse behavioral effects in children. The committee was asked to advise FDA as to what action, if any, is warranted to ensure consumer safety from the use of these color additives in food. After receiving information from FDA, experts, and stakeholders, the FAC (1) found that existing data supported FDA’s conclusion that there is not an established link between consumption of food dyes and adverse behavioral effects in children, (2) voted against the need for additional information on the product label of foods with color additives, and (3) recommended that additional safety studies be conducted. The FAC also recommended that a rigorous, comprehensive dietary exposure assessment of certified color additives be performed.

FDA currently is collecting data on the levels of color additives used in food. These data will be used to estimate dietary exposure for various populations, including children. Regarding the need for additional safety studies, FDA has begun a reassessment of the numerous safety studies conducted on certified color additives that are available in its files. Based on this evaluation, FDA will determine whether additional safety studies are needed.”


More from Mary Kay Kleist
  • Me

    Wow…one person pulls dye from their child’s diet and the ADHD symptoms disappear. I heard about similar BS 10 years ago. Tried it with my 3yo…ADHD did not disappear, in fact it got worse when I pulled the dyes. I have since other science indicating that Carbs and simple sugars are needed to stimulate the brain, which explain why her symptoms are much lessened when she’s on her pasta eating fits or eating lots of candy (M&M, sours, etc.). ADD is gone…even the Hyper is down.

    • vvl

      So similar symptoms can have different causes in different people. When my brother was a child, he reacted very strongly to red 40 on occasions where he consumbed it–became hyper, violent, etc–and was a fairly calm child the rest of the time. There are plenty of ways to get carbs and simple sugars while avoiding certain dyes. The fact that your child has symptoms that are not influenced by dyes does not prove that other children are not influenced by dyes.

      • Just One Woman

        @ Grumpy Old Man

        The problem with that is that food dye is in everything which makes it hard to “just not eat them”. I don’t have a child with adhd or other behavioral issues but we avoid food dyes because they are petroleum based and not natural. There is no reason they need to be in our food – leaving them out or using natural food dyes does not change the taste of the food. Petroleum isn’t food.

      • Grumpy Old Man

        The opposite can be said….1 or 2 react to a dye….others might not.

        Its this massive one-pill fits all viewpoint from the FDA that puts on a bag of peanuts a warning that this product may have been produced in a plant where nuts are present.

        If you, your child, your family, friends, whatever have a problem with it….do eat it and let me have my food as it is.

      • stephanie

        sorry, ditto to vvl, not the other comment

      • stephanie


      • dw

        Reply to Grumpy Old Man. Exactly, so why not label the foods with dyes so that everyone can choose the foods they want. Food with dyes and food without dyes?

      • Pat

        @ Grumpy Old Man: Sure, until you or one of your loved ones has an issue with a food like peanuts. I am quite sure you would change your tune then.

  • Food Dyes Suspected Of Causing Behavioral Problems In Kids … | Food News

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  • Diane

    Everybody reacts differently to dyes, chemicals, and additives. What works for one doesn’t work for another…trial and error. Good advise is to stick to the main staple foods, and natural juices.

  • Toonces

    The FDA; supplying jobs for their cronies and doing nothing for the public.

    • Autism Mom

      AMEN Toonces…AfreakinMEN!

  • Just Axin

    That explains the bad behavior of kids who live in the hood as many of their diets are based on foods using dye. Finally, we get an answer!

    • Kurt

      Most of our diets are based on foods that contain these dyes…not just kids from ‘the hood’ who, by the way, do not have an exclusive on bad behavior, Mr. Axin’. Based on this post and your handle, I suspect you may have an agenda.

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  • Spookiest spook

    How long will it take to get out of their system is the better question.

    • Lisa

      2 weeks-detox is the same as any other drug

  • Dawn McNamara

    After taking red dye out of my sons diet his symtoms of bi-polar and Aspergers are almost completely gone. Check out P.A.N.D.A syndrome. My Doctor suggested taking red dye out and upping his protein intake and I feel like I finally have my sweet little boy back and not this angry, destructive, boy that couldn’t interact with his peers anymore. Not everyone is the same, andf I do believe he is Aspergers, but his rages are GONE!!

  • Jen

    Have you read Why Can’t My Child Behave? It’s really good. We started the Feingold diet and see wonderful changes.

  • Say What Now? Food Dyes Suspected of Causing Behavioral Problems! |

    […] According to Chicago CBS, there have been reports that those who have hyperactive children, are benefiting from removing these artificial food dyes. One woman claims that after removing such dyes from her child’s diet, the problems decreased and things were back to normal. […]

  • Janice

    This makes me want to move to Europe! My son used to spend almost every day in his school office for hitting kids. We took red dye out of his diet about a year ago, and, since then, he’s gone to the office once! He really is a whole other kid!

  • Mark

    Just red dye? THe other 6 are just as bad. Imagine the difference if you eliminated them as well. /ANd there is plenty to eat here in the US. Join the Feingold Assoc. to get their list of foods they research.

  • Food dyes | crystalcoastfamilyfun
  • Steve

    Whether or not food dyes are responsible for altering any child’s behavior, it still begs the question of why these chemicals are used at all. As a father, I would much rather err on the side of caution. These chemicals do not add flavor, protect against spoilage but are added to make the food look “pretty” by corporations that are only concerned with making money. If Europeans can live without them, why can’t we? I bet if food labels were required to put Red 40’s real chemical name on the label, few people would be happy consuming disodium 6-hydroxy-5-((2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo)-2-naphthalenesulfonate!

    • Pat

      Agree 100% Steve!

  • Rhonda Miller

    Artificial dyes (and artificial flavors and artificial sweeteners and artificial preservatives) are made from petrochemicals. They shouldn’t be part of our food supply – regardless if you think they have any affect on ADHD symptoms.

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