The NY Times reports that a well-controlled study to be published in the medical journal Lancet found that commonly used food additives shorten attention span and increase hyperactivity in children.
In a double-blind, randomized six-week study, hundreds of children ages 3, and children ages 8-9, consumed beverages containing artificial coloring and the preservative sodium benzoate. The types of additives and the daily dose of additives were comparable to what children consume in a couple of servings of candy. The diet of participating children was controlled to otherwise eliminate additional sources of the additives. A control group drank a placebo beverage that did not contain the additives, but otherwise looked and tasted the same as the beverage consumed by children in the experimental group.
Parents of the 3-year-olds and teachers of the older kids rated the children on inattention and hyperactivity. The children were also evaluated using a computer test.
"The researchers discovered that children in both age groups were significantly more hyperactive and that they had shorter attention spans if they had consumed the drink containing the additives. The study did not try to link specific consumption with specific behaviors. The study’s authors noted that other research suggested that the hyperactivity could increase in as little as an hour after artificial additives were consumed."
Since all of the children in the experimental groups received the mixture of additives, further research will be needed to determine which additives or additive combinations account for the findings.