The schoolchildren were tested each year using the standard California Achievement Test. The testing began several years before the dietary modifications commenced, and continued throughout.
The results were spectacular. In the three years before the experiment began, the schools had placed in the 41st percentile, the 43rd percentile, and the 39th percentile, compared to other schools in the country. After the first year of dietary improvement, during which the Feingold pros gram was partially implemented, the schools advanced to the 47th percentile. The second year, when the program was implemented further, the schools jumped to the 51st percentile. Interestingly, the next year, when no further dietary improvements were made, no increase in academic performance was found. The schools simply held steady in the 51st percentile. The following year, when the program was implemented further, the schools advanced again-this time to the 55th percentile.
When the study was published in the International Journal of Biosocial Research, the authors wrote, "In short, New York City Public Schools raised their mean national academic performance percentile rating from 39.2 percent to 54.9 percent in four years, with the gains occurring in the first, second and fourth years [precisely when the dietary improvements were made]."48
This was the largest such gain ever measured in any comparable period of time in any metropolitan school district in the country. But that's not all. The researchers added: "In 1979 [before the dietary changes], 12.4 percent of the one million student sample were performing two or more grades below the proper level. Yet, by the end of the 1983 year, the rate had dropped to 4.9 percent. Again' all gains were found in 1980, 1981' and 1983 [corresponding exactly to the dietary improvements]."49
National Rankings of 803 New York City Public Schools Before and After Diet Changes
Percentile Rankings Based on CAT Scores
Source: Stephen J. Schoenthaler, et al. "The Impact of a Low Food Additive and Sucrose Diet on Academic Performance in 803 New York City Public Schools," International Journal of Biosocial Research, VoL 8(2): 185. 196, 1986.
Such stunning results were obtained even though only at-school meals were modified. No attempt was made to alter what children ate at home. Since these children only ate a relatively small percentage of their daily diet at school, we can only imagine how great the benefits would be if children's entire diets were improved.
When foods containing artificial additives are eliminated and foods high in sugar are dramatically reduced, the resulting benefits are not simply due to the elimination and reduction of offending substances. This kind of dietary change inevitably involves a corresponding shift to more whole and natural foods. Diets become higher in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and more plant-based proteins. They become lower in fat, and lower in adulterated, refined, and highly processed foods.
The Healthy School Lunch Program, a project of EarthSave International, is today working to change the food served in schools in a healthier direction. Parents and teachers throughout the country who vould like to see these kinds of changes implemented in their local schools are invited to contact EarthSave at P.O. Box 68, Santa Cruz, CA 95062 (1-800-362-3648). School districts consistently find that when they improve the food available to their students, the young people become
healthier, the rates of ADHD and antisocial behavior plummet, and there are substantial gains in academic achievement.
Sometimes Miracles Do Happen
Doris Rapp, M.D., clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the State University of New York, is quite familiar with the importance of diet in children's lives. One of the world's foremost experts on food and environmental allergies, she became well known to the general public after her appearances on the Donahue show in 1987 and 1988. Her presentations, along with those of the children she had treated and their parents who appeared with her on the show, generated more than 140,000 letters. In her outstanding book Is This Your Child?, she shows parents how to identify the common foods, chemicals, or allergenic substances that can be the culprits behind a wide range of problems in children (and adults). She tells the poignant story of a young boy named Paul.50
When Paul's mother was advised, three days after the boy started kindergarten, to see a doctor for his hyperactivity, she was not surprised. The lad had exhausted his entire family for years. He was constantly jumping around, and was known to roller-skate through the living room at 3:00 A.M. To say he was "out of control" was an understatement.
His mother had feared there might be trouble when Paul started school. She understood when the kindergarten teacher said the boy was "too much" to handle. He was, well, the word exuberant was a polite way of putting it. There was no doubt about it, he could be a problem.
Paul's mother took the five-year-old boy to a neurologist, who didn't take very long to start him on Ritalin. The doctor warned her, "Don't believe what you read about the drug having side effects. It's best just to not read that stuff."
Ritalin made Paul calmer, which was at first a welcome relief. But he soon became depressed and crabby. His mother called the neurologist, who reassured her that the boy would be fine in a little while. After a time, however, the school psychologist called, saying that she was concerned because the boy would stand out on the playground, just staring at the other children. She suggested that the boy be taken off the drug.
Disturbed, Paul's mother took him back to the neurologist. She told the doctor that each time Paul took the medication, he became very with- drawn, and then became overwhelmingly sad. The doctor advised her not to worry, and made some adjustments in the dosage.
When Paul entered first grade, he had been on Ritalin for a year. His new teacher commented that the boy "acted like a zombie, and never ; smiled." Paul's mother was becoming increasingly alarmed.
She knew the medication had relieved Paul's overactivity, but now at times he refused to eat or drink. The school nurse said she could barely get him to drink enough water to swallow his Ritalin tablet. Socially, the boy was not doing well. He was gradually becoming more and more moody, nasty, and morose. What had happened, his mother wondered painfully, to the spirited rascal he once had been? Now when he came home from school, he slammed the door and went angrily to his room. When she tried to talk to him, he would yell, "Why can't everyone just leave me alone." He seemed to have forgotten how to play, laugh, or even ~ smile. Every day he complained that no one liked him. His mother would I hear him alone in his room moaning bitterly, "Everyone hates me." He I had no friends, and had to be forced to get on the school bus every mornI ing. The other children pushed him around, refused to let him sit next to I them, and made fun of him.
Paul told his mother he wished he could go to heaven because he'd I be happy up there. He asked her repeatedly, if people killed themselves, I could they go to heaven? At night when he said his prayers, he would beg l God to please let him die before morning so that he could go to heaven' and be happy. His mother listened helplessly as he lay in bed for hours crying before finally falling asleep. Sometimes she cried, too. She thought she must be an awful mother because he was so troubled and she couldn't help him. She began to think seriously that maybe she should give him away.
She made an appointment with Paul's pediatrician, and told him Paul | had become severely depressed. She was told to continue giving him the drug.
Then Paul tried to kill himself. He took the screen off his bedroom 1 window and tried to jump out. After that, his mother decided that she must I take him off the Ritalin. After checking with the neurologist, who assured her that an abrupt, complete withdrawal from the drug could not harm Paul because Ritalin "was not addictive," she stopped giving him the medation. Within days, Paul became hysterical. His mother found him crying uncontrollably, thrashing about, kicking his feet, and holding a pillow Over his head as tightly as he could. As he tried to suffocate himself, he moaned, "I wish I was dead, I wish I was dead."
Paul's mother took him to a psychologist who told her that the boy's
behavior problems were her fault because he had not been disciplined correctly, and she was letting him manipulate her.
She asked another doctor whether it was possible that Paul might have allergies that were behind the problems, but he scoffed at the idea and told her not to waste her money with that sort of thing. In spite of his advice, however, she took the boy to a board-certified allergist. He told her that diets were not helpful in treating hyperactivity. He said all that had been disproven. He was adamant that the boy's behavior was unrelated to additives or foods. "There's nothing you can do," he declared. "He's never going to have any friends. He'll have to be put away someday."
Paul's mother took the boy to yet another pediatrician, who told her he was learning disabled.
The turning point in this six-and-a-half-year-old child's life began when his mother saw the Donahue show that featured Doris Rapp's work with hyperactive children and allergies. She heard another mother tell of her experience with a hyperactive child who "sounded just like Paul.
With the help of Doris Rapp's book, she immediately put Paul on a Multiple Food Elimination Diet, and within three weeks he was transformed into a happy, contented child. She says she knew for certain that they were on the right track the day his teacher remarked how nice it was to see him smile. The teacher had never seen the boy smile before.
The final confirmation of Paul's improvement was dramatic and heartrending. He came home from school one day, and rang his own doorbell. His mother opened the door and there was Paul, all smiles, tightly clutching a little boy's hand. Bursting with happiness, he said, "Mommy, I have a friend."
In the first five years of the 1990s, Ritalin use among children in the United States nearly tripled.51
For most of the kids taking Ritalin today, none of the many alternatives have been tried before resorting to drugs. Their classroom env~ronments are mass production assembly lines, and no effort has been made to discover what or how they want to learn. Their diets are full of art~fic~a chemicals, and no responsible attempt has been made to discover any foe allergies that they-like Paul-might have.
There are so many alternatives to Ritalin that have proven helpful for countless children that it seems a shame to put a child on the drug without first trying these other approaches. To my eyes, the best strategy often turns out to be a combination of enhanced nutritional support, the creation of a more nurturing atmosphere at home, and a more responsive learning situation at school. The human body and spirit are designed with a basic mtelhgence, and often respond exquisitely to loving attention and a healthy lifestyle. Human beings can be beautiful, creative, and powerful, but need support and the opportunity for self-expression. When we provide a nurturing environment and diet for children, many of the problems that otherwise tend to be treated by pharmaceutical interventions simply disappear.
I have a hard time seeing so many children drugged, and yet it is certainly not my intention to condemn the many parents or teachers who mean well for their youngsters and have given them Ritalin. Often they have been directed to do so by medical authorities, whom they have been taught to trust. Often they have known no other course to take.
One uncontrollable child can so disrupt a whole class that learning becomes impossible for everyone involved. There are parents and teachers who are at their wit's end, and many who do not have the time, information, or financial resources to make adequate positive changes. And there are certainly some children for whom the judicious and temporary use of Ritalin has value, bringing at least a semblance of normalcy and un, wmding vicious cycles in which they have become caught.