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Food Additives and Behaviour. By Barbara Clark and Jessica Cummins. What are food additives?. A food additive is any substance not commonly regarded as or used as food. Three Main Types → cosmetics (3, 640) → preservatives (63) → processing aids (91)

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food additives and behaviour

Food Additives and Behaviour

By Barbara Clark and Jessica Cummins

what are food additives
What are food additives?
  • A food additive is any substance not commonly regarded as or used as food.
  • Three Main Types

→ cosmetics (3, 640)

→ preservatives (63)

→ processing aids (91)

Presently there are about 3, 794 different additives, totally over 200,000 tonnes per year

It is estimated that approximately 75% of the Western Diet is made up of processed foods with the average person consuming 8-10lbs per year.

what are behavioural disorders
What are Behavioural Disorders?
  • Disorders with a quite diverse symptomatology, which includes;

→ distractibility

→ poor tolerance to frustration

→ temper tantrums

→ excitability

→ aggression

→ difficulties with co-ordination

→ lability of mood

→ anxiety

→ impulsiveness

→ inattentiveness

→ disabilities with both cognitive and learning functions

the feingold hypothesis
The Feingold Hypothesis
  • In 1974, Dr. Ben Feingold hypothesized that children’s behavioural and learning abilities are affected by food additives.
  • He studied the affects of food additives and naturally occurring salicylates on 1,200 children and concluded that these could induce hyperactivity and other neurophysiological effects on the children observed
  • Behavioral disorders are a direct manifestation of this sensitivity and as such these behaviors could be controlled simply by removing food additives from the diet.
hyperactivity behavioural disorders
It is estimated that in the USA and Canada 9% of children are diagnosed as hyperactive, the percentage of doctor visits identifying Attention Deficient Disorder (ADHD) children has increased from 1.4% in 1979 to 9.2% in 1996

In the US prescription rates of drugs such as Ritalin and Prozac have increased even for very young children, in 1994 there were 3000 prescriptions for Prozac for babies under the age of 12 months

Children who are diagnosed as hyperactive (ADHD) tend to be extremely restless as babies, tend to reject contact or affection.

In a school setting they tend to be restless, inattentive, distractible and frequently display aggressive and anti-social tendencies and have a higher rate of drop-out and expulsion

They have tendencies to become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, a higher rate of motor vehicle accidents and run the risk of developing criminal tendencies

As adults and adolescents they use impulsive rather than reflective approaches to cognitive tasks, are easily distracted, generally emotionally immature, have poor self image and are frequently unable to maintain goals.

Hyperactivity/Behavioural Disorders
follow up studies evidence
Follow up Studies/Evidence
  • In 1983, Scholenthaler et al., studied the effects of a reduction in sugar and food additive on the effects of prisoners. Assault and battery was lowered by 82%, theft 77% and refusal to obey orders 25%, overall rule violations were reduced by 25%.
  • A study done by Egger et al., in 1985 found that 79% of children tested reacted adversely to artificial food colorants and preservatives, additives produced a marked deterioration in their behaviour
  • In 1991, Smith et al., attributed 16 adverse effects to the consumption of food additives including hyperactivity and other behavioral disorders
  • In 1996 additive containing snack foods were banned from the cafeteria of Wolnwey Junior High in South London, within two years students went from a 23% success rate to 64% in 11 year olds
feasibility could an additive free diet be obtained
Feasibility: Could an additive free diet be obtained?
  • Very difficult to remove all additives from a diet, would require a ban on substances placed into food in the first place
  • Food additive reactions themselves are difficult to identify because they are affected by dose, are cumulative and often occur later, not immediately
  • The only way to determine food additive sensitivities is through an elimination diet
foods containing additives
Bob the builder treats

Bubble gum

Diet Coke

Diet Coke with Lemon

Diet Dr. Pepper

Dr. Pepper

Fanta Orange

Harry Potter treats





Wagon Wheels

Wine Gums

Fruit ‘n’ Grain apple cinnamon bars

Fruit ‘n’ Grain strawberry bars

Foods containing additives
food for thought
Food for thought
  • The food firm Organix published results from food testing indicating that food additives are present in 78% of children’s desserts, 43% of children’s milkshakes, 93% of candies and 15% of children’s frozen burgers
  • UK researches suggest that hyperactivity would go down from one child in six to one child in seventeen if problem additives were removed from children’s diets


Thanks for listening.

  • Tuormaa, Tuula E., 1994. The Adverse effects of food additives on health FORESIGHT.
  • Denate, Sue, Food and behavior. Presentation to “Youth at Risk” Conference, Canberra, July 2000.