Food dyes and hyperactivity: Are M&Ms really like crack for kids?

We know that rainbow-colored candies and neon-bright drinks have enough sugar to make kids act crazy. But what if all that food dye is the real culprit? Could M&Ms really be like crack for kids?

The Food and Drug Administration has long said that artificial food colorings like Yellow No. 5 and Red No. 40 are perfectly safe. Nevertheless, today a FDA panel began re-examining the food dyes and behavioral changes in children. (Also on the docket: talking about whether food label should be changed, and whether more studies are needed.)

The possibility of a link between all those fake, bright colors and hyperactivity in children has been in question since the 1970s, when California pediatrician Dr. Ben Feingold developed a highly restrictive diet that was supposed to control hyperactive symptoms in children.

More recently, a 2007 study by the U.K.'s Food Standards Agency found that kids who were given fruit drinks with artificial coloring in them were more hyperactive than kids who drank a beverage that had no food dyes. Parents and teachers evaluated the behavior of the kids in the study, (age 3, 8, and 9), and found that the 8- and 9-year-olds were affected the most-even if they did not have a previous diagnosis of hyperactivity disorder. And in 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban eight different food dyes found in nearly everything kids like to eat today, from macaroni and cheese and cereal to gelatin and juice. (Even plain white marshmallows have blue dye in them.)

According to, the FDA reviewed the petition and, in September 2010, decided that food dyes didn't cause hyperactivity or ADHD directly, but didn't rule out the idea that they might make a pre-existing condition worse.

Since food dyes are found in so many products, most of which have more than one type of artificial color in them, it would be difficult to link hyperactivity to a specific dye, Kate Ulbricht, cofounder of the Natural Standard Research Collaboration, an independent research group based in Somerville, Massachusetts, told CNN.

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