Vol. 4, No. 3, 1998 Page 3&4


Poor health and nutritional problems are common among young criminals. New research indicates that the link is more than coincidental, and that treating health and diet problems may be one key to preventing behavioral problems and even criminality.

"Sick" offenders

Several years ago, C. Peter Bennett and Jonathan Brostoff surveyed 100 young offenders and 100 matched non-offenders, and found that "the offender group reported significantly higher rates of ill health than the non-offender group." For instance, offenders were far more likely than controls to report stomachaches, lethargy, eye and nose problems, poor sleep, abnormal thirst, poor concentration, and poor memory, and to be hyperactive.

Noting that many symptoms exhibited by the offenders could be linked to food allergies or food intolerance, Bennett et al. recently tested the effects of nutritional interventions on young criminals. Their research involved nine children, between the ages of 7 and 16, with histories of "persistent anti-social, disruptive and/or criminal behaviors." Bennett et al. say their nine subjects had collectively committed 67 crimes, and note that "all the subjects regularly displayed irrational aggression and violence."

Physicians identified nutrient deficiencies and food allergies in all nine of the subjects, and elevated levels of cadmium-a neurotoxic heavy metal-in four. The researchers provided treatment for all subjects, including dietary restriction and allergy desensitization therapy.

Videos shot by an independent BBC film crew before the intervention, the researchers say, "showed uncontrolled, violent, competitive and anti-social behavior." Afterward, in contrast, participants were "controlled, cooperative and sociable."

Bennett et al. say that the health and behavior of all nine subjects improved during treatment. Three children later discontinued the dietary intervention, and two re-offended. Of the six other subjects, two re-offended, "but with much reduced frequency and violence than before the project." In all, of nine subjects, five did not re-offend during the two years following the intervention.

The researchers conclude that dietary intervention "appears to work within an ethical, efficient, effective, economical and preventive paradigm without harm."

Color me hyper

Research by Neil Ward links hyperactivity-a strong risk factor for criminality-to nutritional deficiencies and food intolerance. Ward surveyed the parents of 486 hyperactive children and 172 non-hyperactive controls. The parents of the hyperactive children reported that more than 60% exhibited increased behavior problems when exposed to synthetic colorings and flavorings, preservatives, cow's milk, and certain chemicals. In contrast only 12% of parents of the controls reported a connection between food additives or colorings and worsened behavior.

Ward identified a subgroup of hyperactive children with known sensitivities to synthetic food colors, and exposed the children to these chemicals. Of 23 exposed to the food coloring tartrazine, 18 responded by becoming overactive, 16 became aggressive, 4 became violent, and several developed eczema, asthma, poor speech, or poor coordination. In contrast, only one control subject showed minor behavioral changes after drinking tartrazine. Two other colorings, "sunset yellow" and amaranth, also caused significant behavioral effects in hyperactive subjects.

Ward uncovered one possible explanation for the food colorings' effects. The hyperactive children in the study had statistically lower zinc and iron levels than controls-and when hyperactive children known to be sensitive to the colorings tartrazine and "sunset yellow" were exposed to these chemicals, their blood serum zinc levels dropped markedly. "Several studies," Ward notes, "have shown that zinc-deficient animals are more prone to stress and are aggressive when compared with normal cases." Previous research also has strongly linked tartrazine to hyperactivity (see related article, Crime Times, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 3, Page 5).


"The Shipley Project: treating food allergy to prevent criminal behaviour in community settings," C. Peter W. Bennett, Leonard M. McEwen, Helen C. McEwen, and Eunice L. Rose, Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 8, 1998, pp. 77-83. Also: "The health of criminals related to behaviour, food, allergy and nutrition: a controlled study of 100 persistent young offenders," C. Peter W. Bennett and Jonathan Brostoff, Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 7, 1997, pp. 359- 366. Address not listed.


"Assessment of chemical factors in relation to child hyperactivity," Neil Ward, Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 7, 1997, pp. 333-342. Address: Neil I. Ward, ICP-MS Facility, Dept. of Chemistry, Univ. of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XH, UK.

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