Better Nutrition Nets Good Behaviour

United Kingdom

An extended UK study has found that adding vitamins, minerals and other nutritional elements to the diets of young criminals held in custody can help reduce anti-social behaviour and the number of offences they commit.

The study, which received government cooperation and was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, observed a 25 per cent reduction in criminal and antisocial behaviour. It is one of the first studies to show a direct link between nutrition and behaviour.

"We tend to forget that humans are physical as well as psychological beings, and putting poor fuel into the brain seems significantly to affect social behaviour," said the lead author of the study, Bernard Gesch. "The study did take place in a prison regime but there is every reason to think it may also reduce offending in the community when poor diets are consumed."

The study was conducted over an 18-month period on 230 men at a maximum-security institution for 18­21 year olds. Half of the men received pills containing vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids while the other half received placebos. The study recorded the number and type of offences committed by the young inmates for nine months before the trial commenced and then for a further nine months while the pills and placebos were distributed daily.

The supplements group committed a quarter fewer offences, with violent offences falling by 40 per cent. There was no drop in offence rates in the control group.

The researchers are hopeful that nutritional intervention will be adopted by relevant government authorities as a viable means to reduce anti-social behaviour both in prison and in the wider community.

Natural Justice, the Oxford University-based research charity that organised the trial, will now go ahead with three more clinical studies in other young-offender institutions.

Sir David Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, was enthused by the findings. "If healthy eating is part of a healthy lifestyle, and a healthy lifestyle is a crime-free lifestyle, I hope that the Prison Service will look seriously at exploiting the evidence presented to them today."

Natural Justice estimates it would cost $5.5 million per annum to give all prisoners micronutrient capsules. The current UK Prison Service budget is more than $3 billion.

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