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Bouncing off the walls

(article, Melanie Mesaros)

If you don't already, think twice before handing that striped fruit roll-up or orange mac-and-cheese to your kids. A study published this month in the British medical journal The Lancet found that food additives and food coloring can increase hyperactivity in children.    

The study followed three sets of children (ages 3, 8, and 9) for six weeks, giving them drinks with artifical colors and such additives as sodium benzoate. Researchers say the dosage was equal to having one or two servings of candy a day; the kids ate an otherwise additive-free diet. A control group was given drinks that looked the same but didn't contain any of the additives. The kids were then evaluated by their teachers, parents, and a computer test.  

Results? The kids given the drinks with additives showed signs of increased hyperactivity within half an hour of consuming them.

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As the New York Times pointed out, the findings raise new questions about whether warning labels and stricter regulations are needed. It's also possible that some kids are more sensitive to the additives than others.

Jim Stevenson, a lead author of the study and a professor at Southampton University, told the AFP news service that it was difficult to pinpoint which additives caused which behaviors, because the kids received a mixed combination of additives. 

“However, parents should not think that simply taking these additives out of food will prevent all hyperactive disorders," Stevenson said. "We know that many other influences are at work, but this at least is one a child can avoid.”

Parents concerned about their kids' hyperactivity can try an elimination diet to figure out whether certain foods might be triggering certain reactions. The medical-advice webpage WebMD suggests starting off with chicken, lamb, bananas, pears, rice, and potatoes — all foods that don't commonly result in reactions. After two weeks, parents can slowly work in other foods and monitor for changes. 

In addition, the green-living webzine The Daily Green gives a list of additives that might turn up in infant medicines. 
Nutrition and public-health expert Marion Nestle is also blogging about the debate over additives and hyperactivity:

bq. This new study seems well done but again shows large individual differences, so expect the debates to continue. In the meantime, it’s good to remember that color additives go into processed foods to cover up flaws and make them look attractive. Kids don’t need to be eating highly processed foods. The study is another good reason to feed kids plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other minimally processed foods.

Finally, if you're just looking for a quick roundup of the entire issue, check out  what Slate has pulled together.

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