Diet, Crime and Antisocial Behaviour
Western countries are seeing a consistent increase in violent crime and best efforts by police, zero tolerance campaigns and neighbourhood watch schemes still don’t make us feel much safer. Our prisons are the fullest in Europe, but it only makes sense to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” if we know what the causes actually are. The criminal justice system seeks to address known risk factors such as social and economic deprivation or substance abuse, yet we ignore one of the most important factors that may have a causal influence – our diet.
In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers at Oxford University found that simply by adding vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids to the diet of 231 young offenders at a maximum security institution in Aylesbury, caused a 26% reduction in offences. The well-designed, scientific trial was organised by Bernard Gesch, Director of Natural Justice, a research charity set up to investigate the social and physical causes of crime.
Gesch explains that the human brain, like any other part of the body, requires adequate nourishment to function normally. Although the brain only makes up 2% of our body mass, it consumes around 20% of available energy and to use this energy, it needs a range of essential nutrients. If we don’t obtain enough of these from our diet, the regulation of brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin is potentially affected. This, in turn, might influence the choices we make and, crucially, the way we behave without us even knowing.
It would be naïve to believe that antisocial and criminal acts are purely due to eating and drinking junk, but one wonders what might have become of the 231 young men, had their brains and bodies been adequately or even optimally nourished. Ironically, some of them are receiving healthier meals than they are normally used to whilst in HM’s establishment. But even in these cases, a moderate boost in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids measurably decreased the incidence of offences. In this particular study, the greatest reduction was for serious offences, including violence, which fell by 37%.
Following the spectacular results of the prison study, Gesch and colleagues are hoping for funding so they can replicate the results in three other prisons in Great Britain. He says: “Clinical studies suggest that nutrition is cheap, humane and highly effective at reducing anti-social behaviour. Most importantly, people’s positive potential might be realised if such an approach is taken at a time when criminal justice resources are under stress.”
It is evident that political slogans and standard treatment programs in prisons do little to reform violent criminals. There have been major changes to diets in the last fifty years without real consideration for their impact on the brain. If reinstating healthier diets produces better results with offenders, then it’s worth investing in nutrition as this may ultimately mean less victims.
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, first published Brighton Argus 2003