Considering the mountains of candy children collect, however, it can be a long, scary November for parents (and teachers). Many will not connect children’s hyperactivity, problems concentrating and poor behavior to what they are eating — and I’m not just talking about the sugar.
Most of the artificial dyes in popular colorful candies have been banned in the United Kingdom and throughout much of the European Union because of research showing links to hyperactivity in children. Made from chemicals derived from petroleum and nicknamed the “rainbow of risk” by The Center for Science in the Public Interest, dyes like Blue 1 and 2, Yellow 5 and Red 40, have also been linked to rare but severe allergic reactions and respiratory problems in children and shown to cause adrenal gland, thyroid and kidney tumors in animals. A small packet of M&Ms contains the whole rainbow. These dyes are also found in fruit roll-ups and cereal bars, fruit-chews and many popular kids’ vitamins – all things most parents consider harmless.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration did acknowledge in a 2011 report that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be uniquely vulnerable to these dyes and other additives. But, according to a meta-analysis of British studies, even children without ADHD exhibit changes in behavior and distractibility after eating these dyes.
Why, then, does the FDA maintain these dyes are safe for the general population?
In America, where money and politics are as connected as a witch and her broom, it has become nearly impossible to know what is and is not safe for our children to eat and drink. Lobbyists from the food and agricultural industries have powerful sway over federal agencies and politicians, knocking down measure after measure intended to strengthen food safety laws and notify parents of potential dangers in our food supply. For this reason, when I am asked to speak to parents about nutrition, I begin with the words, “Do not trust the government or a food company to tell you what to feed your kids.”
It’s bad enough that the poorly regulated food industry spends billions of dollars marketing empty calories in the form of junk food to children, but even more disheartening that the agency in charge of food safety refuses to even require a warning label on foods containing ingredients proven to be hazardous to children.
As a mother of two young boys, I understand the impulse to let kids be kids and allow them to participate in these rituals of childhood. But as a nutrition consultant, I do not have the luxury of living in blissful ignorance. I strongly recommend reading labels carefully and regulating your children’s intake of all artificial ingredients but food dyes in particular.
Hopefully the FDA will follow suit and regulate these dyes. But until they do, you should keep a watchful eye over the amount of Halloween candy your kids eat. And if reason and negotiation fail, tell a little white lie for the sake of their health: a ghost came in the night and ate half of the candy.
Lindsay Hill is a board-certified health coach and the author of “The Get Real Diet,” published in spring 2013.