It’s not just the sugar in junk food that has kids bouncing off the walls

The red color in the strawberry sundae sauce at a McDonald’s in Britain comes from strawberries. In the United States, it comes from Red 40.

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest says Yellow 5, Red 40 and six other ubiquitous artificial colorings are linked to hyperactivity and behavior problems in kids and should be banned in foods. It’s petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to ban the dyes so easily seen in things like Fruit Loops, Skittles and even Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese.

The group points to a 2004 meta-analysis of medical literature that concluded that artificial dyes affect children’s behavior. While some European governments are successfully pressuring food manufacturers to switch to safer, more natural colorings, U.S. consumers are being exposed to more artificial food dyes than ever. According to the FDA, the amount of food dye now certified for use is five times as much—59 mg per capita per day—as it was in 1955.

“The science shows that kids’ behavior improves when these artificial colorings are removed from their diets and worsens when they’re added to their diets,” said Dr. David Schab in a CSPI statement. Schab is a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center who conducted the analysis. “While not all children seem to be sensitive to these chemicals, it’s hard to justify their continued use in foods—especially those foods heavily marketed to young children.”

The group noted that all foods sold at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s chains are free of artificial colorings. Otherwise, parents can keep an eye on the ingredient labels of foods.

CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said banning the chemicals is a “far less drastic step” than putting so many kids on Ritalin or other prescribed—and sometimes abused—stimulants. But banning them is sure to be a long process, so while the FDA considers that prospect, the CSPI requests that the FDA require a warning label on foods with synthetic dyes. The petition also asks the FDA to require neurotoxicity testing of new food additives and food colors. See the petition at