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How Food Can Cut Crime

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How Food Can Cut Crime

By Marco Visscher, Ode Magazine

Could changing cafeteria menus be the solution to cutting crime and violence?

At first glance there seems nothing special about the students at this high school in Appleton, Wisconsin. They appear calm, interact comfortably with one another, and are focused on their schoolwork. No apparent problems.

And yet a couple years ago, there was a police officer patrolling the halls at this school for developmentally challenged students. Many of the students were troublemakers, there was a lot of fighting with teachers and some of the kids carried weapons.

Several years later, the atmosphere at the school had changed profoundly. Fights and offensive behaviour are extremely rare and the police officer is no longer needed. What happened? The vending machines have been replaced by water coolers. The lunchroom took hamburgers and French fries off the menu, making room for fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-grain bread and a salad bar.

Is that all? Yes, that’s all. Principal LuAnn Coenen is still surprised when she speaks of the “astonishing” changes at the school since she decided to drastically alter the offering of food and drinks eight years ago. “I don’t have the vandalism. I don’t have the litter. I don’t have the need for high security.”

It is tempting to dismiss what happened at Appleton Central Alternative as the wild fantasies of health-food and vitamin-supplement fanatics. After all, scientists have never empirically investigated the changes at the school. Healthy nutrition—especially the effects of vitamin and mineral supplements—appears to divide people into opposing camps of fervent believers, who trust the anecdotes about diets changing people’s lives, and equally fervent sceptics, who dismiss these stories as hogwash.

And yet it is not such a radical idea, that food can affect the way our brains work—and thus our behaviour. The brain is an active machine: It only accounts for two percent of our body weight, but uses a whopping 20 percent of our energy. In order to generate that energy, we need a broad range of nutrients—vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fatty acids—that we get from nutritious meals. The question is: What are the consequences when we increasingly shovel junk food into our bodies?

We already know obesity can result if we eat too much junk food, but there may be greater consequences of unhealthy diets than extra weight around our middles. Do examples like the high school in Wisconsin point to a direct connection between nutrition and behaviour? Is it simply coincidence that the increase in aggression, crime and social incivility in Western society has paralleled a spectacular change in our diet? Could there be a link between the two?

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Megan, selected from The Intelligent Optimist

Ode, the magazine for Intelligent Optimists, is an international independent journal that publishes positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better.

148 comments

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3:24AM PST on Jan 20, 2014

Enlightening.

10:22PM PDT on Jul 14, 2013

Interesting, thank you.

10:22PM PDT on Jul 14, 2013

Interesting, thank you.

10:21PM PDT on Jul 14, 2013

Interesting, thank you.

10:20PM PDT on Jul 14, 2013

Interesting, thank you.

3:47AM PST on Feb 21, 2011

It's amazing!! In vegetarian and vegan circles it's said 'you are what you eat'... but I didn't mean it happens so literally! :)

9:05PM PST on Feb 11, 2011

The grocery stores?

9:04PM PST on Feb 11, 2011

This is excellent. Maybe one way to do this is to start small -- for example -- the single person, the family, the local school, the birthday party, the school district, the local jail, the university cafeteria, food places, restaurant, food chains, places where people eat out, the movie theaters, the fairs. Each person who has a way to do the following: could request certain foods to be added to the menu, or the food list, and then request that certain foods be taken off the menu of food list.

6:42AM PST on Mar 13, 2010

wow thanks

1:38AM PST on Mar 3, 2010

Working with kids, I see this every day. Junk food, candy, sugar, fatty snacks and energy drinks create a very restless, irritable, rowdy and wild atmosphere amongst them.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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