Come on Crayola – Keep your colours out of the mouths of babes

Exploring the world of brilliant colours can indeed be creative fun  for children. Eating these colours, though, is another matter entirely.  Science is showing that, for a vulnerable group of children, artificial food colours are linked to various adverse effects including hyperactivity.

When you look back at the history of food, the popularity of artificial food colours is a relatively new phenomenon. Homemade eats made from scratch were the norm. Brightly coloured offerings, on the other hand, were special occasion treats, if they were eaten at all.

Fast forward to what’s on the menu for many kids nowadays  and  artificial food colouring is commonplace.  A recent assessment carried out by Purdue University found that the amount of  particular food dyes consumed by children in the U.S has risen  from 12 milligrams per child per day in 1950 to a whopping 68 milligrams per day  in 2012.  Canadian figures are probably not far off.

Some food companies here in North American seem determined to boost those figures even further. Crayola, the makers of crayons and such,  is lending its name to “Color Your Mouth” candies whose dyes are specifically designed to stain kids’ tongues bright colors.

But one American family, the Rossi family, along with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), is launching a petition on asking Crayola to abandon candy marketing to children. According to their petition, nine-year-old Alessandra Rossi has struggled with food-induced hyperactivity since she was a toddler, triggered in part by artificial dyes.  So when she and her mom Julie Rossi saw that beloved crayon manufacturer Crayola began licensing its brand name for an intensely dyed line of candies, they got angry.

The link between hyperactivity and artificial colouring was first proposed by Dr. Ben Feingold, a pediatric allergist, over 40 years ago. To say the concept was not well received by the scientific community is an understatement. But studies now show there was indeed merit to Feingold’s theories.

Three large reviews of the research showed that  dyes adversely affect children’s behavior while one suggested  while another states that  eliminating these artificial food colours is  a potentially valuable treatment approach for ADHD.

The British government  has advised  parents of  kids showing symptoms of hyperactivity or ADHD to avoid giving  those dyes to them. The  British Food Standards Agency has also encouraged the food industry to stop using certain food dyes while also listing  food establishments with products free from these food dyes.  In addition, the agency has urged food companies manufacturers to stop using the  particular dyes tested in the studies (which includes the three dyes most widely used in North America: Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6).

The European Union now requires products with certain food dyes to carry the warning notice, “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”   Warning labels such as this aren’t something food companies want on their packages so the requirement is a simple way to get rid of their being found in the marketplace.

Not surprisingly, Health Canada has no plans for warnings on labels. They are simply looking to require food colours to be declared on labels by their common name. But even this action is going to take time as it’s on in the proposal stage.

In the meantime, Crayola is busy marketing their  “Color Your Mouth” Gumballs  which state that its “6 wild colors” are designed to “Color your tongue while you chew!”

This is what I found on one Canadian website:

“Colour your mouth! Each of these fruity gumballs turns your tongue a different colour while you chew. Chomp on a variety of flavours to create an impressionist masterpiece in your mouth! Art never tasted so good!”

As CSPI states:  ‘Color Your Mouth’ may be responsible for some colored tongues, but it’s also given Crayola a black eye.”

Sign the petition at and in the meantime, maybe look for another source for your children’s art supplies while Crayola gets its priorities straight.


What are your thought on the issue? Please share in the comment section below.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Children's Health, Food Safety, Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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One Comment on “Come on Crayola – Keep your colours out of the mouths of babes”

  1. Betty
    May 19, 2015 at 7:22 am #

    Crayola! Shame on you.

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