We have reported on the scientific research findings about the potential harmful effects of synthetic food dyes (behavioral problems of children being just one of those adverse outcomes) for many years. Now the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has completed a comprehensive investigative report on the topic and concluded that synthetic dyes used in numerous processed foods and drinks can negatively affect attention and activity in children.
The new report involved a literature review, scientific symposium for experts, peer review process, and public comment period. Its conclusions about the behavioral effects of food dyes are grounded in the results of 27 clinical trials involving children performed on four continents over the last 45 years, as well as animal studies and research into the mechanisms through which dyes exert their behavioral effects. A number of studies reviewed in the report linked the synthetic food dyes common in thousands of processed foods and drinks to adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children, including inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and restlessness.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that synthetic food dyes are safe*, a new California State Senate bill introduced in February 2021 and backed by the new report would require warning labels on foods containing synthetic dyes sold in the state.
*Under public pressure the FDA formally reviewed the issue a decade ago; it concluded that a causal link between children’s consumption of synthetic color additives and behavioral effects had not been established. At the time the agency also commissioned an exposure assessment of all seven color additives approved for use in food in the U.S.: FD&C Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3, Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6.
The results of the FDA assessment published publicly in 2014 revealed that between 2007 and 2010, some dyes were consumed on an almost daily basis by up to 98 percent of 2-to-5-year-olds, 95 percent of teenage boys aged 13-18, and 94 percent of the entire U.S. population aged 2 and up.