University of Oxford (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Pages: 3298-3304
ISBN: 978-84-616-2661-8
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 4-5 March, 2013
Location: Valencia, Spain
Since Industrialisation we have made unprecedented changes to our diet with little or no systematic testing for effects on our brain. Furthermore, disaffected young people often have limited routine access to healthy foods and make poor food choices. These people form a large proportion of the prison population and there are concerns that insufficient attention is paid to their health. Hence their diet tends to be poor compared to international standards of dietary adequacy which typically are set to protect the heart but not for optimal brain function. Thus, it has been posited that a poor diet may be a modifiable causal factor in antisocial behaviours.
We tested what happened to the behaviour of violent young adult prisoners (18-21years) when nutrients missing from their diets were reinstated. We used food supplements as an analogue of a better diet because it provided the possibility of a placebo control. On a random basis, where neither the volunteers, prison staff nor researchers in the prison knew who was getting which type, 231 volunteers were given either placebo or real capsules containing broadly the daily requirements of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. The number of proven offences committed by each prisoner was monitored before and while taking supplements. The result was that those who received the extra nutrients committed significantly (26.3%) fewer offences compared to placebos. Those consuming real supplements for at least two weeks committed 37% fewer (highly statistically significant) of the most serious offences such as violence. These findings have been replicated by the Dutch Ministry of Justice, their double blind study reported a 48% difference between groups. If these studies are widely replicated and they need to be, we may have a simple and humane means to help reduce and prevent a significant proportion of violence and antisocial behaviour. This should also work in the community because it is not about where you eat but what you eat. Indeed, criminal justice systems are often over-represented with ethnic minorities but providing a more nutritious diet is never going to be discriminatory to these young people. The only risk is better health.
Diet, brain, behaviour.