Five-fold Increase in Food Dye May Cause Behavioral Issues in Children

A new study released in the Clinical Pediatrics journal revealed that the true amounts of artificial food colors, or AFCs, in many popular, brand-name product. Of all the data revealed in this study, which is the first of its kind, perhaps the most surprising was not only the breadth of products that contain dyes but also that the levels of dyes recorded in single products were higher than what has been shown in other research to have a negative effect on child behavior. While some companies have recently altered the amounts of dyes in their products in response to questions about the effect of some dyes on children, many have not. Overall, the study indicated that the levels of AFCs in foods and beverages consumed have increased five-fold per capita since 1950.

Dyes in Foods and Beverages

While many of the products analyzed in this study typically listed the types of food colorings contained in their products on labeling and packaging, including such AFCs as Red 40, Yellow 6, and Blue 1, the levels of these dyes were not often disclosed. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reported that of all the products studied, Target Mini Green cupcakes had the highest levels of AFCs for most products, at 55.3 milligrams per serving, and Skittle’s and M&M’s each had the highest levels of the candies evaluated at 33.3 and 29.5 milligrams per serving, respectively. In a previous study of beverages, many products were revealed to have especially high levels of AFCs per serving including: Powerade Orange Sports Drink with 33.6 milligrams, Sunny D Orange Strawberry with 41.5 milligrams, and Kool-Aid Burst Cherry with 52.3 milligrams. Other notable, kid-friendly products studied included breakfast cereals, such as Cap’n Crunch’s Oops! All Berries, which had 41 milligrams per serving, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, which was recorded to contain 17.6 milligrams of AFCs in one serving. Other reports noted that the study also highlighted certain products that many would not expect to contain artificial dyes at all, including lemon pudding, white icing, and pickles.

How Much is Too Much?

In addition to revealing AFC levels in food and beverage products, the study also noted the effect these dyes could have on children who consume them. CSPI past analysis indicated that while certain levels of AFCs, namely up to 35 milligrams of mixtures of synthetic coloring, were found to have a negative effect on “a modest percentage of children,” larger doses of dyes in products, in excess of 100 milligrams, have been shown to affect larger percentages of children. Moreover, the researchers opined that children could easily consume over 100 milligrams, and even over 200 milligrams, of AFCs per day, and, therefore, prior research might not have captured the real consequences the AFCs have on child behavior. Researchers also pointed to other reports out of the United Kingdom that recorded the negative effects of coloring in consumed products among both children with ADHD and without the condition and noted that both experienced higher than normal rates of hyperactivity that correlated with the ingestion of high levels of AFCs.

Too Little Too Late?

While the results of the research out of the UK had the effect of mandates from the European Union regarding the labeling of foods with high dye amounts, the reaction to similar studies in the U.S. did not make such an impact. The CSPI highlighted that despite acknowledgment by the FDA in 2011 that food dyes are related to behavioral problems in children, the FDA has failed to take official action. Although some food companies within the U.S. have removed dyes from certain products in response to public outcry on the food coloring issue, many of these changes have been isolated. For instance, last year Kraft announced that it would remove Yellow No. 5 and 6 from its character macaroni and cheese products that are directed towards children, including the macaroni in the form of SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, Kraft did not make those changes to its most popular, “iconic elbow-shaped macaroni product” as well.