ADHD: Food coloring may not be cause, FDA panel says

ADHD is a medical disorder. But many parents consider it a failure of will. In other words, they think the child is experiencing difficulty (being disorganized, having trouble in school, etc.) simply because he/she isn't trying hard enough. Nonsense. Blaming a child for ADHD-related problems makes about as much sense as blaming a nearsighted child for being unable to see the blackboard. "It is a form of ignorance and bigotry that is especially difficult to eradicate because it seems to make common sense - even though it is dead wrong," Dr. Hallowell says. istockphoto

istockphoto

(CBS/AP) No warning labels are needed on foods made with synthetic food colorings. That's the word from an FDA advisory panel that spent two days looking into evidence purportedly showing a link between the dyes and hyperactivity in kids.

The panel - made up of doctors, scientists, and consumer representatives - recommended Thursday that the agency further study the link between food coloring and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but voted 8-6 that warning labels weren't appropriate at this point.

Packages now must list the food colorings, but there is no warning about a possible link to hyperactivity.

The panel said there is not enough evidence to show that food dyes can cause ADHD in the general population of children. They also agreed that diets eliminating food dyes appear to work for some children with behavior problems.

The FDA is expected to follow the panel's advice.

Public health advocates and academics studying the issue agree that dyes do not appear to be the underlying cause of ADHD but say that the effects of certain dyes on some children is cause enough to ban the additives.

The FDA held the meeting in response to a 2008 petition filed by the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest to ban Yellow 5, Red 40 and six other dyes. Dr. Michael Jacobson, the director of that group, said after the vote that he is disappointed that members of the panel were looking for perfect scientific evidence that the link exists. But he said he is pleased that the FDA is acknowledging that food coloring may affect hyperactivity in some children.

"It's a big change from a year ago," he said. "At least this hearing gave recognition to the fact there's a real issue here and I hope a lot of parents will buy foods without dyes."

Some companies have reduced the use of dyes in food sold in Europe due to public concerns about hyperactivity there while keeping them in U.S. foods. Jacobson said he hopes increased awareness will force some of those companies to use less dyes in the U.S.

Representatives of food coloring makers and the food industry urged the agency to hold off, telling the panel Thursday that they don't believe the science is conclusive.

Scientists and public advocates have debated the issue for more than 30 years as the use of dyes in food - especially foods marketed to children - has risen steadily. Consumption of food coloring has doubled since 1990, according to some estimates.

  • David W Freeman

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