Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, a child psychiatrist specializing in ADHD and autism, and a professor emeritus at Ohio State University, said Friday that although he hadn't yet drafted his testimony for next week's hearing, he felt there were many scientific issues to be clarified. For example, he said the Southampton researchers looked at combinations of food colorings and preservatives, so it's unclear which could have been responsible for observed effects.
"We don't know if it's a mix of food dyes, or whether there's one or two particular ones causing the problem and others maybe aren't doing anything," he said in an interview from his office at Ohio State.
Although Arnold officially will testify on behalf of the patient group Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), he said that speaking purely for himself, he had devised an easy rule of thumb: "If something is safe, easy, cheap and sensible to do, you don't need as much evidence to take action. In this case, the action would be to remove artificial food dyes from foods targeted to kids."
"Dyes are not an essential food group," he said. "We have an obesity epidemic; it's not necessary to make food more attractive. The sole purpose of the dyes is to make food more attractive."
Unlike preservatives, which keep food from spoiling, "there's certainly no risk to taking it away. Until we have better research to really tease out what's going on here, it would really make sense to really stay away from the artificial food dyes."
Among others scheduled to testify next Wednesday and Thursday are Jacobson; Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, associate professor and director of the University of Maryland ADHD program; and Sean Taylor, scientific director of the International Association of Color Manufacturers.
In anticipation of the FDA advisory panel hearing, the International Food Information Council Foundation, a non-profit, educational arm of the International Food Information Council, which represents an array of food, beverage and agricultural industries, posted background on its website that said questions about a connection between artificial colors and hyperactivity had been raised "by a small subset of the scientific community." It suggested that people who want to avoid food colors "either due to preference or because of a suspected food sensitivity can do so by simply reading the label and avoiding those products. Likewise, consumers who are not affected can still consume foods containing food colors without feeling concerned about their approval for food use, safety, or role in child hyperactivity."
According to the National Institutes of Health, ADHD affects 3 percent to 5 percent of all American children. In addition to being hyperactive, children and adults with ADHD may also suffer from inattention and impulsivity.