Title: Nutrition and Behaviour Research

Key words: criminology, behaviour, food, diet, nutrition, crime prevention

Date: April 2001

Category: 7. The Mind

Type: Article

Author: Peter Bennett

Nutrition and Behaviour Research

Past Findings

As far back as 1893, Egleston (an engineer at Columbia University) was endeavouring to sponsor research into nutrition when he wrote “I have been using proper methods of cooking as a prevention of crime with great success1”. There seems to have been no follow through of this work in criminology however, despite the subsequent work of Dr. Mercier revealing 35 cases in which diet may have been, or was conclusively contributory to mental disorder2. As food trade and processing increased, health (and particularly dental health) subsequently decreased.

It was Dr. Weston Price (a dentist) whose pioneering work revealed the results that non-indigenous foods can have on a society. He travelled a total of around 100 000 miles studying the incidence of dental disease in people of industrialised and non-industrialised countries. Significantly he discovered not only dental disease, but also physical and mental degeneration in children of the non-industrialised countries who had been introduced to refined foods (in place of their natural staple foods).

Dr. Francis Pottenger studied 900 cats3 to investigate the effects an un-natural diet may have. Some were fed raw meat and another group were given pasteurised milk, cooked meat and cod liver oil. The latter group showed a high incidence of allergies, sickness, skeletal deformity, poor learning ability and poor social interaction. Sir Robert McCarrison, performing a similar investigation with rats4, found similar results to Weston Price with children – with the addition of startling levels of aggression (even cannibalism) in the group fed non-natural foods.

The diets imposed upon many groups of people during world war two provide us with surprising evidence regarding links between nutrition and behaviour. Dohan investigated the incidence of schizophrenic admissions to mental hospitals in Canada5,6,7, Europe and the USA during the 1940s. He found admissions markedly decreased in the German-occupied countries (which were short of wheat). The incidence of other psychoses however increased. More compelling evidence arose when schizophrenia returned to its former prevalence once grain became more plentiful again.

Validity and Acceptance of Nutritional/Behaviour research

With such observations as these arising it is surprising that we see nutrition-health-behaviour research being ignored by those in the field of criminology. Leon Radzinowicz, for example, an eminent Professor of Criminology rejected a plea for considering the role of nutrition in criminal prevention8. Although clinical ecology began to develop quite rapidly and effectively, not only criminology, but also the medical profession rejected the validity of the research and observations. Consequently breakthroughs in and possible resolutions to criminal and anti-social behaviour were overlooked.

It appears in summary that three pointers can be drawn out to indicate why a ground breaking area of criminology has not been investigated further:-

  1. Increasing specialisation within both natural and social sciences.

  2. A plethora of disciplines seeking their own methodologies.

  3. Poor access to research material and confusion over what constitutes “sound research”.

Increased specialisation has had many effects, not least in channelling minds at an early stage in education towards a particular area. Hence criminologists are encouraged to study crime in depth, to the detriment of their study of other subjects – especially human biology. This limits their scope for a multi-disciplinary approach to case study.

Research itself has fallen victim again to specialisation, specifically with regard to the validity of experimental method. There is now widespread acceptance of the perceived superiority of double-blind designs, and at the same time a tendency to encourage rejection of clinical observation and longitudinal studies as conclusive research tools. In a discipline where attention to the individual is of paramount importance however, great difficulty is experienced with double-blind and placebo methods. Williams9 summed up the need for individuality pertaining to people with his genetotrophic concept:-

Every individual organism that has a distinctive genetic background has distinctive nutritional needs which must be met for optimal well-being.

If one acknowledges this concept and accepts the synergistic effects of nutrients, then it is clear that individual variation will affect the results of any experiment. Even baseline data may not be consistent across the experimental and control groups. Therefore, without a broader acceptance of clinical observation and more flexible experimental methods a highly successful area of criminal prevention may continue to be overlooked.


  1. Egleston. To Sterling Morton, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. National Archives, Washington DC. 1893.

  2. Mercier, C. Diet as a factor in the causation of mental disease. Lancet. 11th March 1916.

  3. Pottenger, F.M. Pottenger's cats la mesa. Price-Pottenger Foundation. 1983.

  4. McCarrison, R. Nutrition and Health. The McCarrison Society, London. 1981.

  5. Dohan, F.C. et al. Is schizophrenia rare if grain is rare? Biological Psychiatry 19: 385-399; 1984.

  6. Dohan, F.C. Wartime changes in hospital admissions for schizophrenia. Acta. Psych. Scandinavica. 42: 1-23; 1966.

  7. Dohan, F.C. Wheat consumption and hospital admissions for schizophrenia during world war II: a preliminary report. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 18(1): 7-10; 1966.

  8. Hood, R. & Sparks, R. Key issues in criminology. Weidenfield and Nicolson. London, 1970.

  9. Williams, R.J. Biochemical Individuality. University of Texas Press. 1979.