New research into the link between artificial food additives and hyperactive behaviour in children is being funded by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The FSA has awarded a team at the University of Southampton £750,000 to carry out the research over two-and-a-half years from September. The study will involve around 900 three- and eight-year olds and will look at the effects of eating colourings and preservatives on their behaviour.
The study follows research carried out by staff at Southampton and at the David Hide Asthma and Allergy Centre at St Mary's Hospital on the Isle of Wight in 2001. The four-week study, which was also funded by the FSA and commissioned by the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, found that artificial food colourings had a general adverse effect.
But the FSA considered the findings to be inconclusive as parents' observations were not backed up by clinical assessments. The study was rejected by peer reviewed scientific journals but was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood Journal this month.
According to Professor John Warner of Southampton, who conducted the original research, the new study will attempt to clear up the uncertainty surrounding certain food additives and their effects.
"The further study funded by the FSA should be able to tell us more conclusively whether these food additives are affecting children's behaviour," Warner said.
Only last month Dr Alex Richardson, senior research fellow at Mansfield College, Oxford, and co-director of Food and Behaviour Research, called for more government-funded study. Speaking at the Westminster Diet and Health Forum, she said: "To pretend food has no effect on behaviour is wrong."