Since the 1970’s a possible link between ADHD and certain food dyes and preservatives has been suspected.  A 2007 study in the The Lancet found that a mixture of four artificial food colorings plus the preservative sodium benzoate aggravated the hyperactivity in two groups of children – a group of 3 year olds and a group of 8-9 year olds.  The same study showed that a second mixture did not have a big effect on the 8-9 year olds despite having the sodium benzoate and two of the same food colorings in lower amounts. 

 The inconclusive nature of the results of many studies related to this question has led many to dismiss the connection between ADHD and food additives.  But recently the issue is being looked at again by the medical community.  In 2008 Pediatrics professor Andrew Kemp of the University of Sydney called for the removal of food additives as standard treatment for kids with ADHD.   He explains that of the 22 studies performed between 1975 and 1994 sixteen found that dietary modifications had a positive impact on children with ADHD.  He claims that eliminating food additives is a relatively harmless intervention and in light of the large number of kids on drugs for hyperactivity it would be wise to institute it as standard procedure for treatment for ADHD.  He cites a recent study that shows an increased hyperactivity in children without ADHD who were fed foods high in food colorings and sodium benzoate to support his claim.  In February of 2008 the editors of the American Academy of Pediatrics publication AAP Grand Rounds cited the same study as Kemp and stated “the overall findings of the study are clear and require that even we skeptics, who have long doubted parental claims of the effects of various foods on the behavior of their children, admit we might have been wrong.”

 The European Union has agreed to place warning labels on foods containing six artificial colors that appeared in the The Lancet study which are: Yellow no. 5 Tartrazine, yellow no. 10 quinoline yellow ( not approved in the U.S.), Yellow no. 6 sunset yellow, red no. 3 carmoisine ( not approved in the U.S)., Red no. 7 ponceau 4R ( not approved in the U.S.), and red no. 40 allura red.  Sodium Bezoate is a food preservative that can be found in fruit juices, carbonated beverages, and pickles. 

 While the U.S. is lagging behind the European Union in terms of enacting laws requiring warning labels,Marylandis poised to become the first state to do so.  Two bills have been introduced into theMarylandStatelegislature and are awaiting confirmation.  Hopefully by 2012 the following warning will appear on foods containing certain food dyes:

“The color additives in this food may cause hyperactivity and behavior problems in some children.”


Boyles, Salynn “Experts Revisit Food Additives and ADHD” 24 Jan, 2011.

 Gardner, Amanda. “9 Food Additives That may Affect ADHD” 24 Jan. 2011.

Shapley, Dan. “State May Ban Food Additives Linked to ADHD”

The Daily 24 Jan 2011.