Can food affect behavior? Report, study suggest 'yes'


Bad food, bad conduct.

At times I have difficulty deciding what the lead-in should be for my columns. For example, this column could just as well begin "good food, good conduct" or "what you eat may make you end up in the pen or it may keep you from ending up in the pen."

Be that as it may we will be looking at two separate examples about how food affects behavior.

In 1997, Paul and Barbara Stitt paid for a nutritional program at an alternative high school in Appleton, Wis.

Not long prior to the beginning of that program a man had been offered the job of dean of students at the school. What he saw were teens who were ill mannered, rude, and obnoxious. He turned the job down.

Since the school had so many problems with weapons violations and discipline a police officer had been recruited to be on the staff. What he found was a school out of control.

Fortunately for that school remarkable changes were soon to occur. On a weekend in 1997 all the junk food and soft drink machines were removed from the school and the cafeteria menu was changed.

Burgers, fries, and burritos were replaced with salads, meats prepared with old fashioned recipes and whole grain breads and cereals. Vegetables and fruits were offered and the only liquid available was water.

So they were not drinking caffeinated beverages. The food was free from artificial coloring and flavoring.

The students' behavior and scholastics greatly improved. The number of students who dropped out, were expelled, were found carrying weapons, were using drugs or who committed suicide dropped to zero.

Anyone wanting to see the written report that gives added information can go to To see a video that gives even more information, go to, click on Presentations and Scientific Information, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on Watch the Video.

Now for the second example. This tells of a a joint study done on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean by researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of York in England.

The nutritional status of more than 1,000 Indian, Creole, Chinese, English and French 3-year-olds was assessed. Social workers visited the homes of of these children checking on income, occupation, health, age and educational level of their parents, and overall living conditions. Over a 14-year period researchers followed the nutritional, behavioral and cognitve development.

The children were rechecked at ages 8, 11 and 17. Comparing the children who had good nutrition with those who were poorly nourished, those who were poorly nourished showed a 51 percent increase in violent and antisocial behavior at age 17.

The scientists concluded that poor nutrition characterized by zinc, iron, vitamin B, and protein deficiencies leads to low IQ which leads to antisocial behavior.

In the U.S., 7 percent of toddlers are iron deficient and in adolescent females the iron deficiency is between 9 percent and 16 percent. Iron deficiency is between 19 percent and 22 percent in black and Mexican-American females.

This study was reported in the International Journal of Epidemiology 2010.

The bottom line from both of these examples is that food and drink can make a significant difference in conduct and that parents need to be more careful about what their children eat.

Actually, there is good reason to believe that adults' behavior for good or for ill can be affected by what they eat as well.

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent 4 years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 21/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment