Food Dyes and Children's Behavior
By Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest
A lot of parents notice that the foods our kids eat affect their behavior. Some of those effects are subtle, some less so. Most dads and moms know that sugar and caffeine can have a dramatic impact on behavior, but most parents are unaware that artificial foods dyes—like Red 40, Yellow 5 and six others—have also been shown to cause hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children.
It’s time to rid our food supply of these unnecessary and discredited chemicals.
Since 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has collected reports from parents to convince the Food and Drug Administration to ban Yellow 5 and 6, Red 3 and 40, Blue 1 and 2, Green 3, and Orange B from our food supply.
In the 1970s, scientists first realized this correlation when allergist Benjamin Feingold reported that many of his young patients improved when artificial food dyes, preservatives, and certain natural foods were removed from their diets. Many parents put their children on the Feingold Diet, which screens out those substances, and reported fewer tantrums, more focused school work, and other welcome changes.
Most multinational food companies are already phasing these dyes out of foods in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, but American versions of the same products continue to get their colors from synthetic dyes. The syrup in a strawberry sundae from a McDonald's in the U.K. gets its red color from strawberries, but in the U.S., the red color comes from Red 40. Similarly, a Betty Crocker yellow cake mix is colored in Britain with safe natural colorings, but with Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 in the United States.
Artificial dyes are particularly prevalent in the sugary cereals, candies, sodas, and snack foods pitched to kids. And they are often used to simulate the presence of healthy, colorful fruits and vegetables in foods. For example, General Mills' Fruit Roll-ups and Fruit-by-the-Foot flavored snacks get their fruity colors from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, and Blue 1. General Mills' Fruity Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Trix also contain several of the problematic dyes, as do Kellogg's Froot Loops and Apple Jacks and Post's Fruity Pebbles.
The successful phase-out of food dyes in European countries proves the same can be done in the United States. If companies won’t voluntarily replace synthetic dyes with natural coloring in their American-produced products, the FDA needs to force them to do so or at least warn parents of the harmful behavioral affects of food dyes.
If food dyes have affected your child’s behavior or behavior improved when synthetic dyes were removed from their diet, please submit a report here. We’ll forward those reports to the Food and Drug Administration and repeat our call for a ban on artificial dyes. And together, we can look forward to a safer, dye-free food supply—and healthier, happier children.