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Health

89. Common Food Additive Doubles Kids' Hyperactivity

Sodium benzoate may be more than just a preservative...

By Richard HollinghamJanuary 15, 2008 6:00 AM

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Can food additives affect children’s behavior? A study published in the November 3 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet suggests they can.

A team from the University of Southampton in England measured levels of hyperactivity in 153 three-year-olds and 144 eight- and nine-year-olds. The children were put on a diet free of the additives used in the experiment. Then each day over a six-week period they were given one of two mixtures with artificial coloring and the preservative sodium benzoate, or a plain fruit juice placebo. All the drinks looked and tasted identical.

Researchers observed the children in the classroom and analyzed reports of their behavior from parents and teachers. The older kids were also given a computer-based attention test. The results from all these tests were scored to produce a measure of hyperactivity known as a global hyperactivity aggregate (GHA). The higher the GHA, the greater the hyperactivity.

On average, the children who drank the additive concoctions showed a near doubling of GHA scores compared to those on the placebo. This was true for the younger and older children. Investigators also reported differences in the way individual children responded to the additives, with some becoming much more hyperactive than others.

“The study shows that, on average, children have higher levels of hyperactivity when taking a drink with additives in it compared to their behavior when taking fruit juices alone,” says Jim Stevenson, head of the study.

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