Have you ever hit absolute breaking point because you could no longer cope with your child’s irritability, tantrums, inattentiveness, aggressiveness or hyperactivity? If you have, you’re not alone. Most parents investigate these kinds of behavioural issues by seeking professional help by an occupational therapist or psychologist.
As an occupational therapist I have worked with a spectrum of children and seen all sorts of behavioural challenges. I want to share with you a personal story and show you exactly why I believe you need to start looking at solutions for behavioural issues at homebase.
At the beginning of my paediatric journey, I was working with a young boy in grade one who couldn’t sit still in class. He was constantly fidgeting and getting distracted which meant he wasn’t learning at the rate of the other kids in his class. His teacher recommended keeping him back a year, however his parents were not keen on this idea at all. From an OT perspective we addressed everything from sensory needs to nature play to behaviour management, self-regulation and movement. Whilst he did show some signs of improvement, he was still not managing well in the classroom.
It wasn’t until one day when I caught a glimpse of this child’s lunchbox that everything made sense! No wonder this child couldn’t concentrate. His lunchbox was filled with highly processed artificial ‘foods’. For recess he had a packet of cheesy flavoured chips containing a cocktail of flavour enhancers and colours, yoghurt containing synthetic colours, flavours and 4 tablespoons of sugar, and a flavoured fruit drink made with a concoction of manufactured ingredients.
Whilst therapy has SO much to offer, it could not help this child who was constantly fuelling his tiny little body with a cocktail of chemicals. I could equip his parents with every strategy and tool under the sun, but unless the scaffolding for a healthy body is there, therapy is rendered useless. In this instance traditional therapy could only offer a ‘bandaid’ approach. When we started to address the diet, that is, the fundamental building blocks of the brain and the body, we did so much more than just apply a bandaid to the symptoms. We began to treat the root cause!
So let’s dive a little deeper…..
We assume that the food that lines the supermarket aisles is safe for human consumption, right? I mean, surely manufacturers wouldn’t be allowed to place known toxic chemicals in products and market it to our kids? Right? The truth is, packaged food is made to sell. The manufacturers don’t have the slightest interest in the health of you or your child. It’s simply not their priority. Their priority lies in the profit margins – plain and simple.
Food dyes and colours serve no purpose other than for cosmetic purposes. The bright colours are simply used to get your child’s attention. These man-made laboratory-derived chemicals are used in a tonne of everyday ‘foods’ such as cordial, cakes, biscuits, chocolates, ice-cream, jam, and muesli bars. Seriously, when did this become okay?
In 2007, The University of Southampton in the UK conducted a study on food dyes and their effect on children’s behaviour. The findings concluded that there was a link between hyperactivity and six synthetic food colourings in kids.
These colours are known as the ‘Southampton Six’:
- sunset yellow FCF (E110)
- quinoline yellow (E104)
- carmoisine (E122)
- allura red (E129)
- tartrazine (E102)
- ponceau 4R (E124)
Unfortunately, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is not going out of it’s way to create any awareness about the harmful effects of these chemicals. We are expected to seek out this information ourselves and if we don’t, then it’s tough titties. In Europe, a mandatory warning must be put on any food and drink that contains the six colours. The label must say: “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”.
So if you live in Australia, you need to do a little bit more investigating before its safe to buy a processed product. The best thing you can do is read the ingredients list. If a number between 100 and 181 appears on the list, this indicates the use of a food dye. Have no hesitation in putting that packet back on the shelf!
I think as parents and consumers, we need to remain curious and we need to be asking more questions. What are the long term side effects of consuming these chemicals? What additional damage is it doing to our children with special needs who already have a compromised system and neurological challenges? What are the effects of consuming food dyes in combination?
At this stage, no one really knows the answer to these questions, and the harsh reality is, our kids are the human experiment.
So, I implore you to make a change. It doesn’t have to be drastic and it doesn’t have to be now. But sometime in the future, with the knowledge you have now, make a change and make a difference.
It all starts at homebase.
With love and hope,