Can Boys’ Difficult Behavior be Helped by Diet?
April 18th, 2010

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Dear John,

My partner works at a private youth detention facility (half way house). When he told me about the difficult behavior of the boys and the trouble in getting them up in the morning, I advised him to limit caffeine. This has been helping. What other things can be eliminated so the boys feel and act better? Thanks so much!


Dear Michele,

Thanks for being concerned about these youngsters. I don’t know how much power your partner has over the food eaten at the detention facility where he works, but when changes have been made in the diets eaten by youth at such places, the results have been remarkable.

In a series of studies conducted in the 1980s, chemical additives were removed and sugar was reduced in the diets of juvenile delinquents. Overall, 8,076 young people in 12 juvenile correctional facilities were involved in these studies. The result? Deviant behavior fell 47 percent.

In Virginia, for example, 276 juvenile delinquents at a detention facility housing particularly hardened adolescents were put on a diet that contained no sugar or chemical additives for two years. During that time, the incidence of theft dropped 77 percent, insubordination dropped 55 percent, and hyperactivity dropped 65 percent. In Los Angeles County probation detention halls, for another example, 1,382 youths were put on a similar diet. Again, the results were excellent. There was a 44 percent reduction in problem behavior and suicide attempts.

These and other studies have found that marvelous things happen when troubled youngsters are put on a healthy diet based on nutrient dense foods like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and avoid sugar and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

I wish you and your partner all the best in your efforts to improve the diets and lives of the young people in your lives and work.

Take care,


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