Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Nutrition and Behavior

Several years ago, an educator told me that the most efficient and effective way to see standardized test scores go up was to make sure that every child enjoyed a balanced, nutritious breakfast before taking any exam.

I thought of that analysis recently as I read a report on a piece of British research about nutrition and prison behaviors ("Health food is the recipe for peace," by Marco Visscher,ODE, June 2007, page 80).

Oxford senior research scientist, Bernard Gesch conducted research on the effects of good nutrition on social behavioral outcomes.

In a British prison for youth offenders, the researcher divided 231 prisoners, all young men, into two groups. For a year-and-a-half, one group received food supplements that included the suggested daily requirements for vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. The other group received a placebo. No one in the prison knew who was getting which regimen.

The results? Those receiving the more robust and balanced diet committed 26% fewer offences and 37% fewer violent assaults as compared to the group receiving the placebo. The study was designed to control for ethnic or social factors that might have affected the two groups and skewed the study. The obvious factor of influence on the outcome of the research project was dietary.

Researchers couldn't help but ask a big "what if" about everyone in the study regarding their diet and nutrition while growing up. Eating properly seems to have some beneficial, determining influence on behavior.

The study of youth offenders went on to report, regarding children, "There will be increasing evidence that young people are undermined by what they eat. There is not a diet yet that takes behaviour into account. In short: this is a societal time bomb."

"There is an enormous increase in the number of prisoners, not only in Europe but most certainly in the United States. Research suggests that nutrition is a cheap, humane and highly effective way to reduce anti-social behaviour. We need to know more, or the composition of the right nutrients. It could be a recipe for peace."

Interesting and intriguing.

Helping provide nutritious food for children and adults is likely an essential ingredient in any plan to fashion a more workable and productive community. I expect we knew that already, but this study does provide fresh perspective.

A detailed report on the research can be found at:



Stacy said...

I guess we can conclude from this research that placebos are the cause of violence in prison.

faye said...

I feel like I've just stumbled on a gold mine! I'm relatively new to town, a teacher, also starting my MSW in Aug...Your blog and this organization are a breath of fresh air, and I'm thankful to have stumbled upon them! I look forward to getting involved.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen this?

Will New York's Cash Rewards Hurt the Poor?
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to help poor families by paying them to complete common tasks, such as giving them $300 for when their children do well in school, harms American values, writes an anonymous author on his political blog, Capital Cloak.

“We have now gone from ‘You can feed a man with fish, but it is better to teach him how to fish’ to ‘Let’s pay the man $100 per month for having a fishing pole,’” he writes.

Cash-reward programs were pioneered by foundations, and in New York Mr. Bloomberg is raising $53-million from private sources for the two-year program instead of using government money because of the experimental nature of the effort.

Regardless of where the money comes from, though, the author of Capital Cloak finds the while idea problematic.

“The idea of paying people, regardless of their income level, to make good common-sense decisions is the epitome of government run amok. It does not matter whether the funding of such a program comes from philanthropy or taxation; the theory behind the program is morally bankrupt and dangerous to the survival of American ideals such as individualism and personal responsibility,” he writes.

What do you think? Are cash rewards a smart way to fight poverty? Click on the comments link below this post to share your thoughts.

Larry James said...

Faye, you'd be welcome at CDM! Glad you are here.

As to cash rewards, I think we need to wait and see what results are obtained. Bloomberg is no wild-eyed crazy. I can relate a personal experience. Years ago we paid people to do all sorts of things in the community from August until Thanksgiving. We paid them with script that we printed and the pay rate was $10 per hour for volunteering, working in schools, parks, libraries, nursing homes, our food pantry, churches, etc. We even paid parents for going to PTA meetings or for having parent teacher conferences. After Thanksgiving we opened a Christmas Store. Everyone who worked could use their "money" or Christmas Store dollars to purchase toys for their children. The toys were donated by churches, community groups, etc. Maybe these folks should have been doing these things anyway. But no one could shop in our "store" unless they had done the community work. It worked really well until we got too big--but that is another story for another day.