04.01.11: Food Dyes and Hyperactivity

1 April 2011

I’ve been eyeballing the FDA hearings on food dyes and hyperactivity in kids.  It appears that they’re not going to take action (because it’s the government’s job not to take action until things get really, really bad).  The FDA panel did, however, acknowledge that some kids’ behavior problems may be exacerbated, accelerated, and otherwise affected by artificial food dyes.  The evidence is not conclusive enough to merit warning labels – officials in Europe are more stringent about these things – but the question looks shaky enough to merit more, and better, study.  So that’s what they recommend: more study.

One could debate all day long about correlation versus causality; that is, one does not equal the other.  One could also argue that kids’ behavior issues are entwined in a mysterious thicket of genetics, home environment, school environment, society, nutrition, physical activity, sleep, parenting, prenatal health, and more.  I am very close to this issue, and those of us who live close to the issue are dying to know why and how, and how to keep it from happening again.  But as much as I hunger for an answer and an antidote, I can’t imagine that it would be possible to navigate that morass and point with surety to one thing and say, ah-hah, that’s the thing!  That’s the reason my child can’t pay attention, won’t sit down, keeps setting the cat on fire.

One can debate these ideas and more.  Should foods with artificial colors bear warning labels?  Should the dyes be banned outright?

In these debates and discussions, though, it would be impossible to contend that these artificial dyes are GOOD — even if they’re “safe,” they just can’t be good.  It’s impossible to pretend that electric-orange puffed snacks are one of the building blocks of good health for anyone.  That’s what it boils down to for me.  Artificial dyes may or may not contribute to hyperactivity in kids.  It’s not for me to say, and I’m not sure it would be possible to extract the influence of these dyes from the myriad other reasons that darn kids today are so darn nutty.  But.  Under no circumstances could one claim that they’re good or natural.  They were invented to make food look more yummy so we will buy more of it.  I, for one, am not a fan of consuming anything that came about as a result of a bunch of marketing people sitting around a table, coming up with ways to trick me and my family into eating their crap.

So there.  Eat a damn apple.

Smarter people than I have weighed in:

Marion Nestle:


Melanie Warner:


And if you haven’t been following the deal, here’s a quick breakdown from the LA Times, and another from CNN:



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2 Responses to 04.01.11: Food Dyes and Hyperactivity

  1. Jenn says:

    I think this is one of your better blog posts. It’s important that people read this. Whether it’s proven that it can cause hyperactivity or not, it’s artificial. In a society where instant gratification is possible for practically everything you can think of, it’s important that we seriously evaluate the risks that some of these things can bring. Even if the only risk is that we as a society are losing our ability to be patient and use a little elbow grease every now and then. Giving ourselves and our family colored, attractive food just because it’s fast and easy is never the best option whether it causes your kid to bounce off walls or lose all of their teeth, or not. Except in the case of re velvet cake. It’s always right in red velvet cake.

    • Thank you — sometimes we have to get political. Because dang it, there are people making decisions that affect us. It’s critical to think issues through and make the best possible decisions we can for ourselves and our families.

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