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Study: What We Eat Linked to Learning Disorders

November 16, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The diets of American children could be undercutting their brain power. That's according to a new study, which shows a link between such diet-related factors as synthetic food dyes, mercury contamination and mineral deficiencies, and increases in child learning and behavioral disorders.

Dr. David Wallinga, who is a co-author of the study and director of the Food and Health Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says the study cited evidence that many common processed foods, including high-fructose corn syrup, contain mercury. He says the legal loophole that allows food companies to put mercury-containing food ingredients in children's diets needs to be closed.

"We've got rising numbers of kids with chronic diseases and learning disabilities, and we don't know why. So, is part of what this model is saying that there are things in the food and in the environment that may be contributing? Yes, there are, and we can do something about that."

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is working to reform the way toxic chemicals are regulated nationally to help ensure a healthy food system. Wallinga says we need to get back to a diet with more healthy, whole, unprocessed foods.

He says that, with increasing health care costs, it's critical that public policy updates our regulatory system for chemicals and food.

"The government regulations as they stand now make it possible to make high-fructose corn syrup with food chemicals that are contaminated with mercury, and there's already other ways to make those chemicals. So, why we are still using this outdated mercury technology is a little silly, but we are."

Wallinga says the average American gets about one in 10 calories from high-fructose corn syrup, which can also leave people deficient in zinc.

The study, published in this month’s issue of Behavioral and Brain Functions Journal, is available at

Heather Claybrook/Glen Gardner, Public News Service - MO