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Volume 38, No. 2

New York City School Children do Better as Diet Improves

From 1979 through 1982, New York City school children were given lunches and breakfasts with lowered amounts of sucrose, synthetic food colors and flavors, and two preservatives (BHA and BHT), a program mandated by the New York City Board of Education as a test of the Feingold diet. By the spring of 1983, the city’s schools had risen from the 39th national percentile to the 55th, a 15.7 percent increase.1 Various other hypotheses as to the cause of this increase – placebo effects, student-to-teacher ratios, nutrition education programs, increased breakfast consumption – were considered and rejected.2

Evaluation of the test results was complicated, however, by the fact that since 1979 the level of fat in the school diet had also been lowered. The new diet, with its decrease in fat- and sucrose-laden processed foods, meant that the children were getting more nutrients and fewer empty calories, with a resultant decrease in malnutrition:

Improvements in academic performance by comparison with other US schools during the same period appear to be due to the diet policies that restricted fats, sucrose, and food additives. The cause(s) will remain unverified without further research, but malnutrition may be the predominant causative variable since all students have the potential of being malnourished. Although [reduction of] malnutrition appears to be the most likely theoretical explanation for most of the improvements, selected children may have improved due to a restriction of food additives and sucrose that cause "allergy" symptoms.

1Schoenthaler, Stephen J., Walter E. Doraz, and James A. Wakefield Jr., "The Impact of a Low Food Additive and Sucrose Diet on Academic Performance in 803 New York City Public Schools," Int. J. Biosocial Research, 8(2):185-95, 1986.

2Schoenthaler, Stephen J., Walter E. Doraz, and James A. Wakefield Jr., "The Testing of Various Hypotheses as Explanations for the Gains in National Standardized Academic Test Scores in the 1978-1983 New York City Nutrition Policy Modification Project," Int. J. Biosocial Research, 8(2):196-203, 1986.

Article from NOHA* NEWS, Winter 1988

*The American Nutrition Association was formerly known as the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association [NOHA].

For informational purposes only - not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor an endorsement by the American Nutrition Association®. Use permitted for non-profit and non-commercial uses or by healthcare professionals in their practice, with attribution to Other use only with written ANA℠ permission. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ANA℠. Works by a listed author subject to copyrights as marked. © 2010 ANA℠