Food agency finds «limited evidence» on link between additives and hyperactivity

A study claiming that a mixture of food colorants is to blame for hyperactivity among children has been found to be inconclusive, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK, the study showed that for some children, certain mixtures of artificial food colourings taken together with the commonly
used preservative sodium benzoate can have a negative effect on their behaviour .The research was commissioned by the country’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Now, following an assessment of the study, EFSA has concluded that the results provide ‘limited evidence that the mixtures of additives tested had a small effect on the activity and attention
of some children’. In addition, the effects observed were not consistent with the two age groups used in the study, which involved 153 children aged three, and 144 children aged eight to nine
years old.

Experts from EFSA added that because the additives in the study were used as mixtures, there was an inability to pinpoint which individual additives were responsible for the effects observed.
The clinical significance of the effects observed also remains unclear, since it is not known if the small changes in attention and activity would affect schoolwork or other intellectual

Because of these limitations, EFSA say that that the findings of the study cannot be used as a basis for altering the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) values of the additives studied.

The researchers that conducted the study at Southampton University say they are pleased with the scrutiny by EFSA of their work, agreeing that further research is needed on ‘this important
question which is of concern to many parents’. They also note that ‘since the colours being tested in this study are of no nutritional value, even the small overall benefit of removing them
from children’s diets would come at no cost or risk to the child. Under these circumstances a benefit, even a small one, would be worthwhile achieving’.

The Southampton study is the largest study of its kind and one of the few to be based on children from the general population. The majority of previous studies used children described as
hyperactive and therefore not representative of the general population.

EFSA says that it is currently re-evaluating the safety of all food colours authorised in the European Union on a case-by-case basis and the colours used in the Southampton are included in
EFSA’s review. Opinions on some of the colours concerned, such as Allura Red, are expected to be adopted by the end of the year.

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