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Can Nutritional Supplements Alter Student Behavior?

A group of researchers reported that children aged 6-12 years  given low dose vitamin-mineral supplements were involved in less violence and antisocial behavior than those who did not receive the supplements. [Ref: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. February 2000, 6(1): 7-17] The setting for this study was two "working class" schools in Arizona in which 468 students participated.  Half the students were given vitamin-mineral pills containing 50% of the U.S. RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowances) for four months while the rest got a placebo.

The study focused on students who were disciplined at least once during a full school year.  Forty students given the vitamin/mineral pills were disciplined one time each, while the 40 given the placebo were disciplined 1.9 times each. The difference between these two groups was statistically significant.  However, was it meaningful?  In actuality,  388 students were not disciplined at all, whether they got vitamins or not!

What can we conclude?  Unfortunately very little. The study authors concluded that bad nutrition led to low nutrients in the blood, impaired brain function, and bad behavior.  However, they completely ignored the home status of the subjects which is a well-established confounding factor in children’s behavior; and that the same number of students in both groups were disciplined.  The supplements and placebos were only given for 4 months while their behavior was monitored for eight months.  This study suggests nothing more than the need for another better controlled study in the future!

While this study really didn't prove anything, that does not mean we should feed our children junk food, either. As we wait for better information, we would probably be wise to heed the words of Ellen G. White, an early health reformer: “Children who eat improperly are often feeble, pale, and dwarfed and are nervous, excitable, and irritable.” (CDF 231) 

The following six simple, common-sense guidelines will help provide our families a balanced, nutritious diet to promote a healthy body and mind:  

  • Emphasize whole grains over refined grains in breads and cereals.
  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, consuming at least 7 servings per day.
  • Choose beans, peas, or lentils often to limit consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Go easy on high-sugar foods as they crowd out more nutritious choices. (Soda pop is the largest source of added sugar in the U.S. diet!)
  • Eat meals at regular times each day.
  • Be physically active each day.