Over the six weeks of the trial, Stevenson's team found that children in both age groups who drank the drinks containing additives displayed significantly more hyperactive behavior. These children also had shorter attention spans. However, which specific additives caused specific behavioral problems is not known, the researchers said.
One of the additives, sodium benzoate, has been linked to cell damage in a previous study, and to an increased for cancer. Sodium benzoate is found in Coca-Cola, Pepsi Max and Diet Pepsi, and in many fruit drinks.
Other additives assessed in the study include a number of colorings -- sunset yellow (E110), found in fruity drinks; carmoisine (E122), a red coloring often added to jams; ponceau 4R (E124), a red food coloring; tartrazine (E102), found in lollipops and carbonated drinks; quinoline yellow (E104), a food coloring; and allura red AC (E129), and orange-red food dye.
"Although the use of artificial coloring in food manufacture might seem to be superfluous, the same cannot be said for sodium benzoate, which has an important preservative function. The implications of these results for the regulation of food additive use could be substantial," the researchers conclude.
Based on these findings, the British government's Food Standards Agency cautioned parents to be on the lookout for hyperactive behavior linked to food additives.
"Parents of children showing signs of hyperactivity are being advised that cutting out certain artificial food colors from their diets might have some beneficial effects on their behavior," the agency said on its Web site.
"However, we need to remember that there are many factors associated with hyperactive behavior in children. These are thought to include genetic factors, being born prematurely, or environment and upbringing," Dr, Andrew Wadge, chief scientist at the Food Standards Agency, said in a statement.
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