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Food colours and hyperactivity

Find out about the link between certain artificial food colours and hyperactivity in children.

Research has found a possible link between certain artificial colours used in food and problems with hyperactivity in children.

If your child is overactive and struggles to concentrate, it might help to cut down on these colours in their diet.

Read more about:

Food colours linked to hyperactivity

Should my child avoid these colours?

How to avoid these colours

Food colours linked to hyperactivity

All food additives – including artificial colours – have an "E number", which means they've passed safety tests and are approved for use in the EU.

The six food colours most closely linked to hyperactivity in children are:

  • E102 (tartrazine)
  • E104 (quinoline yellow)
  • E110 (sunset yellow FCF) 
  • E122 (carmoisine)
  • E124 (ponceau 4R)
  • E129 (allura red)

These colours are used in a number of foods, including soft drinks, sweets, cakes and ice cream.

Should my child avoid these food colours?

If your child is hyperactive, or has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), there's some evidence to suggest that avoiding the six food colours may help.

But it's important to be aware that:

  • hyperactivity can have many different causes, including genetics, and food colours are probably only a small part of the problem
  • removing food colours from your child's diet won't necessarily lead to an improvement in their behaviour
  • the link between food colours and hyperactivity isn't completely certain – more research is needed for confirm it
  • you don't need to avoid all E numbers – there are hundreds of different E numbers and most aren't linked to hyperactivity

If you think your child's diet may be affecting their behaviour, it might help to keep a diary of what they eat and how their behaviour changes, so you can spot any patterns.

If you notice a possible link between food colours and their behaviour, you may want to see if avoiding these colours helps. But don't make drastic changes to your child's diet without getting medical advice first.

How to avoid these food colours

You can avoid these food colours by checking food labels and looking for alternative products that don't contain them.

All artificial food colours should be included in the list of ingredients, with either their E number or full name.

If any of the six food colours are included, the label must also have a warning saying the colour 'may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children'.

If you buy food or drink without packaging, you'll need to ask the manufacturer or the person selling the product if it contains artificial colours.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has more about:

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