Children`s disruptive behaviour can be linked to food choice

Hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and antisocial or aggressive behaviour in children can be traced back to what they eat. According to Dr Neil Ward from the University of Surrey’s Chemistry department, some children can react to the additives, preservatives and colourants in food products, causing certain behavioural problems. “Parents should identify the products which cause the reaction and eliminate it from the child’s diet,” he said.

Dr Ward monitored groups of children in schools. He aimed to find out whether behavioural disturbance linked to chemicals appeared in isolated groups or if all children were at risk. He found that certain colourants could lead to an adverse reaction within 30 minutes of consumption. He identified toxic metals like lead and aluminium and food colourants as the main culprits. Reactions to these chemicals included behavioural or body reactions like rash or physical impairments.

Finding a direct link between certain chemicals and health problems can be a difficult task. Scientific data is needed to prove that some chemicals can cause behavioural problems, but at the moment it is up to scientists to prove this. Drug companies are required by law to provide extensive human trial tests on their produce to show that it is safe to use, but the same does not apply to food producers. In the UK, children’s food are only regulated in their first year, after which it disappears. Food producers often direct their food at certain groups, including pregnant women or the health conscious, but they don’t need to provide scientific data that the products are suitable for these groups.

There has been a decrease in the general health status of children, with more children being classified as obese. GPs have also noted an increase in the number of complaints about asthma, sore throats or skin rashes, which could all be traced back to chemicals in food.

“Children in primary schools are under a lot of peer pressure to consume certain products,” Dr Ward said, “and they tend to favour products containing a lot of sugar. The problem is that these products often also contain some ‘nasty’ chemicals.”

“Consumers often don’t understand the information on food labels. They were a bit more conscious of labels when concerns about e-numbers was first raised, but since organic food hit the shelves, people seem to think everything is safe now,” he said.

“It is very important that not only children but in many cases their parents should be encouraged to learn more about the foods they choose to consume, how they are stored, prepared and cooked in terms of providing optimum nutritional value to their diet,” Dr Ward concluded.

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