In her own life, O'Brien has gotten strict about what she feeds her children and encourages others to do what she has done: Throw out as much non-organic processed food as they can afford to. Also, avoid anything that's genetically modified, artificially created or raised with hormones and don't eat food with ingredients you are unable to pronounce.
"I thought, 'Well, I want to cook like the moms in Europe and avoid these chemical additives and see if that makes a difference in my children's health and behavior.' And so we did," O'Brien said. "We moved from the tubes of blue yogurt to regular yogurt and we started mixing honey into it. "
Not everyone in her family was happy about the changes.
"I encountered major resistance from my boys," O'Brien said. "They loved that blue yogurt and it was easy and it was convenient, but to see the dramatic improvement in my boys — especially as we cleaned out their diets — it was amazing. It was incredibly inspiring. They slept better; they were able to concentrate in school. Their behavior improved."
It remains unclear whether the chemicals pose any real health hazards to consumers, though two recent British studies found that certain food dyes, as well as the common preservative sodium benzoate, may have an adverse effect on some children's behavior. Researchers said the increase in ADHD diagnoses could be partly to blame on the preservative.
"It can affect their focus, their concentration. They become more easily distractible, become more impulsive. I think we're looking at a whole population of kids with skewed immune systems," said Dr. Kenneth Bock, who wrote a book that supports the theory that food additives could lead to hyperactivity in children.
But some, like child behavioral expert Dr. Andrew Adesman of Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y., don't buy into the claim.
"I think perhaps we're better off eating less artificial colorings on the one hand. On the other hand I think it's irresponsible to suggest this is a major cause for hyperactivity," Adesman said. "I think the data don't support [that] this is causing most problems for most children."