Intended for healthcare professionals


Food additives and hyperactivity

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 22 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1144
  1. Andrew Kemp, professor of paediatric allergy and clinical immunology
  1. 1Department of Allergy and Immunology, Children’s Hospital at Westmead, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2145, Australia
  1. AndrewK5{at}

    Evidence supports a trial period of eliminating colourings and preservatives from the diet

    Whether preservatives and colourings cause or exacerbate hyperactive behaviours is an important question for many paediatricians and parents. A recent randomised placebo controlled trial in 297 children aged 3-9 years provides evidence of increased hyperactive behaviour after they ate a mixture of food colourings and a preservative (sodium benzoate).1 In contrast to many previous studies, the children were from the general population and did not have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The trial found an adverse effect of the mixture on behaviour as measured by a global hyperactivity aggregate score. The daily dose approximated that found in two 56 g bags of sweets.

    In view of the potential importance of these findings, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently provided an opinion that takes other evidence into account. …

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