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Food As a Predictor of Behavior in Children – Eat Better, Act Better?

Most of us know if we eat healthy we’re more likely to be healthy. But how often do we relate what we eat to our behavior, and more importantly perhaps, the behavior of our children? In a talk I recently gave about nutrition I had used several examples of every day foods to bring my point home about what is really in the foods we are eating, that we may be unaware of. One of these foods was children’s breakfast cereal. A conventional brand listed sugar as the first ingredient, and therefore a main ingredient. Yet every parent knows that after eating sugar kids are likely to go off the deep end and become hyperactive and misbehave, followed by the sugar low that causes irritability.

So why are we feeding our kids sugar first thing in the morning? Are we helping them to start their day on the wrong foot? Among other toxic and possibly disease causing ingredients, there were 3 different food dyes in this cereal. Food dyes have been linked to hyperactivity, reduced mental capacity and several forms of disease, including asthma and cancer. Reading the ingredients in this one food got me thinking more about the ever increasing incidence of ADD and ADHD in children, and the behavior problems that parents and teachers are so well aware of. Is it possible that by simply changing what we feed our children we can relieve and perhaps eliminate hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children? Increasing evidence indicates the answer is Yes.

An article entitled You Do What You Eat, in the September, 2005 edition of Ode Magazine reported mounting evidence that food directly affects the behavior of children. Studies show when eating a diet high in sugars, saturated fats, food dyes, pesticides and preservatives, children will exhibit aggression, restlessness and even explosive behavior. When this food is replaced with healthy, nutritious foods the bad behavior disappears or is greatly reduced. This phenomenon was also highlighted in the movie, Super Size Me. Here, an experiment was conducted with emotionally disturbed children who were put into a different school that served only organic foods and healthy snacks. Soda machines were replaced with water vending machines. Candy machines were replaced with healthy choices. Before long the behavior of these problem children became exemplary, even better then the other school children who were still eating nutritionally void junk foods.

Similar results have been found in studies performed in prisons. For instance, a study conducted by Bernard Gesch, a physiologist at the University of Oxford, showed aggression and fighting were reduced considerably among inmates when healthy foods were replaced with conventional and junk foods. Food, it seems, is becoming a reliable predictor of future violence and crime in children, and even adults. This phenomenon implies remarkable possibilities for great improvements relating to our level of crime in society, the over crowding of prisons, and in fact our entire judicial system over time. This transforms our food choices, once thought of as a personal issue into a social issue as well.

When adding crime and violence to the strong links already known to exist between food and ADD/ADHD, obesity and related health problems and other diseases in children, there is even more cause to consider changing what our children eat. With this increased evidence becoming difficult to ignore there is a wave beginning in schools across the country toward healthy and organic lunches and snacks for their students. Schools who participate are finding students becoming more well behaved, happier, healthier and better able to learn, and their test scores show it. With these results being so favorable, the question becomes, is our school system ready for change?