The concept that diet may be affecting children’s behavior gained public attention in the 1970s. In 1973, Feingold, pediatrician and allergist, created controversy at a medical conference by asserting that 50 percent of children he treated improved following an elimination diet of all artificial food colors, flavors, preservatives, and salicylates (Tomlinson, Wilkinson, & Wilkinson, 2009). I bet that was one hell of a medical conference!
Feingold reported food additives, including dyes and salicylates, which are chemicals that occur in some fruits, were the cause of behavioral problems in children. Since then, research has attempted to determine the validity of his claims in various ways. Studies have compared restrictive diets to regular diets or put children on restrictive diets and then gradually introduced food dyes or additives into the diet. Thus far, the studies have been inconclusive and leave multiple important questions to be answered.
This is what a few of the researchers have reported. Mattes, Kavale, and Forness reviewed a slew of research pertaining to the Feingold diet and determined it was of no value and only helped a few children decrease hyperactivity. However, other researchers disagree (Rimland, 1983). Reportedly, such a conclusion is not acceptable and an arbitrary negative conclusion. Rimland asserts that the studies reviewed had very small dosage levels of colorings and failed to recognize the role of the subject’s nutritional status. It is acknowledged that the Feingold diet may work for some children; however, it is not a cure all and does not work for all children. Additionally, most studies have only excluded a small number of colorings instead of the 3,000 additives in the Feingold proposal; therefore an actual legitimate comparison has not been made.
To some researchers, Dr. Feingold is considered a pioneer, for recognizing the nutrition and dietary sensitivity connection to behavioral problems. However, other researchers report his findings have not been replicated and lack reliability. Being a researcher, myself, I believe it would be extremely difficult to replicate Feingold’s findings. However, after studying hundreds of journal articles on diet and social emotional functioning, I consider him a pioneer and believe there is merit to his findings.
Feingold, B. (1976). Hyperkinesis and Learning Disabilities Linked to the Ingestion of Artificial Food Colors and Flavors. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 9 (9), 19-27
Rimland, B. (1983). The Feingold diet: An assessment of the reviews by Mattes, by Kavale and Forness and others. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 16(6), 331-3.
Tomlinson, D., Wilkinson, H., & Wilkinson, P. (2009) Diet and mental health in children. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 14(3), 148-155.