Concern over a possible link between food dyes and hyperactivity in kids has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to meet for two days, starting Wednesday, to discuss the science behind the link and whether there should be government restrictions on their use, according to an article published today (March 28) in the Washington Post.

Artificial food dyes are used in a wide array of foods, from candy to pickles to juice. But recent research has shown that kids who eat foods and drink beverages with artificial dyes and the food preservative sodium benzoate are more likely to be hyperactive than their peers who eat foods free of dyes and preservatives, the Post reported.

One study, published in 2006 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, showed that children who consumed a beverage containing 20 milligrams of artificial food coloring and 45 milligrams of sodium benzoate a day were more hyperactive , as reported by their parents, than when they drank a placebo beverage.

However, some scientists are still skeptical of a potential link. Keith Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the Rose F. Kennedy Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said that other factors, like gender, maternal education level and diet could explain hyperactivity over food dyes.

"It becomes impossible to affirm that the change in behavior was due to food colors," Ayoob told the Post.

The British government asked food makers to stop using six artificial dyes in 2009 (though other artificial dyes are still permitted), or else include a warning label on the food products that says the foods "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children," according to the U.K. Food Standards Agency.

Here are the six dyes: sunset yellow FCF (E110); quinoline yellow (E104); carmoisine (E122); allura red (E129); tartrazine (E102); and ponceau 4R (E124).

To avoid having to put these warning labels on their food, Kellogg and Mars International replaced those six dyes with permitted dyes or natural dyes made from fruits and vegetables, according to the Post.

"Companies in Europe are managing perfectly well people get used to a slightly different color," Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), told the Post. The CSPI has petitioned the FDA to ban the artificial dyes.

However, food industry officials say the dyes are safe and the studies linking them to hyperactivity are inconclusive, the Post reported. They say that the FDA heavily regulates the dyes.

The FDA banned the dye Red No. 3 in 1990 in cosmetics, medicine and other products because of its link to cancer. However, the dye was allowed to be used in foods, the Post said.

Pass it on: The FDA will hold a meeting this week to discuss whether there's a definitive link between hyperactivity and artificial food coloring.

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