Food, drinks may be putting kids at risk of ADHD

By Matt Papaycik, Producer, mpapaycik@wkmg.com
Published On: Aug 15 2013 11:15:00 PM EDT
Updated On: Aug 16 2013 12:01:52 AM EDT

Sugary, cereal, mac and cheese, chocolate syrup -- chances are, these things are part of your child's diet every day.

ORLANDO, Fla. -

Sugary, cereal, mac and cheese, chocolate syrup -- chances are, these things are part of your child's diet every day.

They all have something in common -- some of their ingredients are banned overseas because of the potential health dangers.

The latest numbers from the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention show that more than five million kids between the ages of four and 17 are diagnosed with ADHD. And local dietitians say that the problem may be what they're eating and drinking.

At Elizabeth Silva's Winter Garden home, her two sons are helping her make fresh-squeezed lemonade.

"This is safer than what they can buy in the store," says Silva.

Some of you may be surprised to hear her say that, but Silva claims that her recipe is better because it has no artificial colors.

"If he drank Crystal Light in the store, he would be all over the place," Silva says, referring to her five-year-old son, Conrad.

Silva claims that the dyes that turn Crystal Light yellow or pink, also turn Conrad into a different child.

"Body slamming into one wall, body slamming into the other wall, back and forth," says Silva. "He was growling, his eyes were like really wide open."

With the help of a dietitian and a lot of research, Silva traced the problem to things like Red 40, Blue 1 & 2, and Yellow 5 & 6, which are found in almost every processed food in the store.

Take these products we sampled:

 - Kellogg's Froot Loops contains Red 40, Blue 2, Yellow 6, and Blue 1.

 - Wonka Sweet Tarts have Red 40, Blue 1 & 2, and Yellow 5 & 6.

 - Hershey's Strawberry-Flavored Syrup has Red 40.

 - Duncan Hines Signature Red Velvet Cake Mix has Red 40.

 - Mountain Dew has Yellow 5.

 - Fanta Orange has Yellow 5 and Red 40.

"We think that diet has a huge impact on how children behave these days," says Dr. Andrew Pittington, a child psychologist in Lake Mary.

He says that diet is one of the main things he looks at when treating patients.

Dr. Pittington points to several studies over the past decade -- like a 2007 report from The Lancet medical journal, which shows that artificial dyes can trigger hyperactivity and aggressive behavior in children.

"When we removed, completely removed the Red Dye number 40, we've seen some dramatic effects," says Dr. Pittington. "Much less aggression, much more focused."

Some governments overseas are worried about the potential health risk.

The dyes have been banned in Britain since 2009, and a warning label is required in other European countries.

So, why hasn't our government followed suit?

We reached out to the Food & Drug Administration, which sent Local 6 this statement:

"As part of FDA's overall commitment to ensure the safety of the food supply, the agency uses an extensive, science-based process to evaluate the safety of food additives. The law requires that the FDA determine there is reasonable certainty that an additive does not cause harm when it is used as intended. The agency continues to monitor the science on food additives and is prepared to take appropriate action if there are safety concerns. When determining that a food or ingredient is 'generally recognized as safe' or GRAS for its intended use in food, the same quantity and quality of evidence is required as is needed to approve a food additive."

One person who thinks that action needs to be taken is Dawn Napoli, a registered dietitian at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando.

"A lot of the other countries are just more strict on their laws," says Napoli. "So they take studies, and they use those to reduce and restrict certain things that are in their foods."

Back at the Silva's home -- Conrad's diet is now free of artificial dyes.

But his mom is demanding that more be done to protect other kids.

"We're supposedly the greatest country in the world, and why is our diet the worst?" says Silva.

Doctors say that you should try and eliminate those artificial colors gradually.

Their best advice to do that is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Replace sugary snacks with fruits and nuts, and switch to whole grain cereal and bread.

We also reached out to all the companies whose food we mentioned earlier in this piece. We specifically asked them if they're aware of the potential health risks associated with artificial dyes, and whether they've discussed removing them.

The Coca-Cola Company, which makes Fanta Orange, sent us this statement:

"All the ingredients we use in our products are safe, are permitted by regulatory authorities in the countries in which they're sold and are properly labeled. We would not use any ingredient if there was a credible basis to confirm that it wasn't safe."

Nestle, which makes Wonka Sweet Tarts, sent us this statement:

"At Nestlé USA food safety is our highest priority. All of our confectionery ingredients meet stringent FDA requirements and are safe for consumption. We continually look for ways to improve products with the ultimate goal of meeting consumers' needs. However, food regulations vary in different countries, as do the brands available. At present, we continue to work toward the removal of artificial colors and flavors in our U.S. candy products."

Kraft Foods, which makes Crystal Light, sent us this statement:

"The safety and quality of our products is our highest priority. That is why we only use ingredients that are approved and deemed safe for use by the Food and Drug Administration."

The other companies we reached out to, and whose products were featured in our story -- Kellogg's, Hershey's, Pinnacle Foods (which makes Duncan Hines products), and Pepsi (which makes Mountain Dew) -- did not respond, and did not answer our questions about whether they're aware of the potential dangers of these artificial dyes.

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