Can What Kids Eat Affect Their Behavior?

Children's drinks may contain additives that may lead to adverse behaviors.

You are what you eat -- this familiar saying is usually associated with thinking that if you eat healthy foods, you are more likely to be healthy, and if you eat unhealthy foods, you are more likely to be unhealthy. However, a number of studies suggest that what children eat may also affect a child's behavior.

Food Additives

The effect of food preservatives and food coloring on children's behavior has been studied since the early 1970s, when allergist Benjamin Feingold looked into the connection. The U.K. Asthma and Allergy Research Center conducted a study on a group of 227 3-year-old chiildren from the Isle of Wight. Researchers gave the children a fruit drink for two weeks that contained preservatives and artificial coloring, and then followed this with two weeks of a similar fruit drink, minus the preservatives and artificial coloring. The study found that the children were more likely to have problems with concentration, lose their temper, interrupt and have problems sleeping when they drank the beverages that contained additives. Kids who's diet has a large amount of additives may also exhibit more hyperactivity than other children. The British authorities responded to these findings by asking that harmful additives be removed from foods and drinks that appeal to children. The FDA did not make a similar recommendation.


Research has not been able to show conclusively that too much sugar in a child's diet affects his behavior. Some studies have debunked the "sugar high," whereas others have demonstrated a connection. However, some parents have communicated personal experiences in which their children were hyperactive after consuming large amounts of sugar.


Allergies and a link to hyperactivity has been researched since 1989. The Medscape website states that several researchers throughout the 1980s and 1990s used a restrictive oligoantigenic diet, a diet that has the least possible risk of allergic reaction. The research process included eliminating foods that were common allergens and the slow reintroduction of foods one at a time. The studies concluded that food sensitivities could provoke behavioral problems in some children. A study in the Netherlands found that a hypoallergenic diet reduced ADHD symptoms in 63 percent of the 4- to 8-year-old children who participated in the study.


Children who lack the necessary nutrients and vitamins in their diet may have other behavior disorders, including anxiety, depression, autism, lack of ability to focus and mild hyperactivity. Scientists have researched the relationship between vitamin deficiencies and depressive states, which they published in the British Journal of Psychiatry and other journals. Deficiencies in one or more B vitamins have been linked to memory loss, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, mental slowness and confusion.