Sue's Blog

Goldfish have a longer attention span


While the internet argues whether humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish (1), an Australian study found that inattention is one of the top four behavioural effects of food additives, along with irritability, restlessness, and sleep disturbance (2).

Compared to bad behaviour, parents don't complain much about short attention span because it is not as difficult to live with.

The trouble is, short attention span leads to learning delays at school – and these can cause school failure. 

In 2013, a study showed that children with better attention span at age 4 were more likely to finish college by age 25 (3).

It is common to blame inattention on too much screen time (4), but our readers say short attention span and inability to concentrate can be improved by diet.
Reader reports

“My son now 3½ was diagnosed with Autism at 2½…he was always active…and he had no attention span…His biggest problem is salicylates and colourings…Three days on the elimination diet (through RPA) and he was a changed child…he is now far more teachable, with…the ability to pay attention to things better than before…” – from story [215]

“Since starting failsafe two months ago, my son has had a huge turnaround...Last week, he played his first basketball game as his new self. He always wanted to play, but had little attention span. Usually he would vague off in the middle of the game and would never listen to instructions from his coach...(This time) he was amazed at his new ability…“ - Michelle from story [278]

“With the advent of the new diet…we discovered that my son has quite a talent for sport. Before the diet, he didn't have the attention span to stay between the white lines on a running track...Within the first 6 months…he went on to represent his school in swimming and athletics…this year, as a 9 year old, he has already broken records...he has his sights firmly on the Olympic games…" - from story [901]

“My son…went to kindy for five terms and hated every day. He escaped quite a few times…wouldn't interact with other children, and had a small attention span…he has just started at school this term… your book…has helped us more than any doctor...” – from story [348]

“When our 8-year-old daughter was a toddler…eating home made bread, she had a great attention span…The introduction of preservative 282 in purchased bread coincided with a decline in our daughter’s abilities…her performance decreased…she was unable to concentrate for more than about one minute at a time…we returned to our bread maker…After about ten days, we had a different child. She started concentrating! She finished in 10 minutes what she previously couldn’t finish in 4 hours…“ – from story [329]      (see **WARNING** below)

“I have ADHD and when I was following this diet I was so much better … it was easy to think and concentrate ... it works definitely do it” – Ash from story [1503]

My…son was like a eczema-covered cyclone, he was looking like being medicated for adhd…Within months of starting the elimination diet…I had a different kid, one that could concentrate… - Jo from story [1497]
“When I cut out the cheese (with annatto 160b) my son was more cooperative and had a longer attention span” – from story [1333]

“My three-year-old son had a severe speech delay, many behavioural problems…Four weeks after starting the elimination diet, his behaviour improved each day, the tantrums decreased dramatically, he became calmer, his attention span increased…The difference in him is so dramatic the paediatrician was in shock…” – from story [540]

What you can do

Everyone is different.

For some people it can be as simple as avoiding one additive, such as the bread preservative (280-282)

**WARNING** the bread preservative (calcium propionate 282) is now often replaced by sodium propionate 281 misleadingly listed as cultured dextrose, cultured wheat flour or 'cultured' or 'fermented' anything and claims of No artificial preservatives -  but it can have the same bad side effects. Read more...

Often, more than one food chemical is involved. The best way to find out exactly what affects you is a 2-3 week trial of the RPAH diagnostic elimination diet (5), preferably under the supervision of an experienced dietitian.


1. Kevin McSpadden, You now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish,  Time magazine May 14, 2015 ; Simon Maybin, Busting the attention span myth, BBC March 10, 2017

2. Rowe KS, Rowe KJ. Synthetic food coloring and behavior: a dose response effect in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, repeated-measures study. J Pediatr. 1994 Nov;125(5 Pt 1):691-8.  

3. McClelland MM et al, Relations between preschool attention span-persistence and age 25 educational outcomes, Early Child Res Q, 2013;28(2):314-324.

4. David Daley, Children’s attention spans at risk from too much screen time, February 17, 2014,

5. RPAH, Diagnostic elimination diet handbook, 2019,