Food and Behaviour Research

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21 March 2014 - London - Diet and Children's Behaviour and Learning - Guts, Brains and the Nutrition Connection


Start Date: 21 March 2014

End Date: 21 March 2014

Duration 9am to 4.30pm

Location 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE

Venue The Royal College of Surgeons

Programme and Abstracts:

A document with the programme, speaker details and abstracts, summarising the content of the day's presentations may be downloaded via the link below

About the event:

FAB Research was proud to offer this opportunity to hear from a panel of leading international researchers and expert practitioners about the links between children’s diets and their mood, behaviour and learning – and what parents, professionals and policymakers can do to help.

The issues discussed affect everyone, and could hardly be more pressing:

Child behaviour and learning difficulties are an ever-increasing problem in the UK and other developed countries. Conditions like ADHD, dyslexia and Autism Spectrum Disorders have reached record levels, as have anxiety, depression and related disorders. Many more children show milder forms of the same kinds of issues, leaving parents, teachers and health professionals struggling to cope.

This increase in childhood disorders of mental health, wellbeing and performance is linked with rising rates of many physical health disorders in children that are known to be diet-related: from obesity and diabetes to allergies and other immune system disorders. This ‘double-whammy’ is already putting impossible pressure on public services, in addition to the personal burdens placed on the children and families affected.

New scientific research is showing why these kinds of mental and physical disorders often go together - because of highly complex links between our guts, brains and immune systems that are heavily influenced by what we eat. The latest evidence also points clearly to some things that we can all do to help reverse the current damaging trends.

Nutrition and diet affect children’s brains as well as their bodies. All children have to eat - and their parents and carers have to feed them. Both can be a challenge - particularly for children with behaviour or learning difficulties - yet most professionals working with children receive no special training in this area.

Delegates learned about the latest developments in research and practice in this fast-evolving field. They had an opportunity to ask questions and join in a discussion and debate, and gained valuable practical insights to use both at home and at work.  

What was discussed:

  • What’s wrong with the diets that most UK children are now eating? And what’s the evidence that these are affecting their mood, behaviour or learning as well as their physical health?
  • What simple dietary changes have been shown to reduce ‘ADHD’ symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity - in children with or without an ADHD diagnosis?
  • Can food allergies, intolerances or other ‘adverse food reactions’ really affect the brain as well as the body? And how can such problems best be assessed and managed?
  • Why are gluten (from wheat and other grains) and casein (from milk) thought to be a problem for some children? What are the theories – and are they backed by any good evidence?
  • Is there any good rationale for ‘special diets’ for children with autism or other behaviour and learning disorders - and what are the potential risks?
  • How can parents improve the food choices of children who are ‘fussy’ or selective eaters? And how can dietitians and other health professionals best support them?
  • How can parents and professionals work together to improve children’s diets? And what can policymakers do to help? 

Speakers and Chair:

Professor Jonathan Brostoff (Chair) (Professor Emeritus of Allergy and Environmental Health at King's College London, and founder of the Allergy Research Foundation)

Dr Alex Richardson (Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Evidence Based Intervention, University of Oxford; and Founder Director, FAB Research)

Professor Keith Woodford (Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness at Lincoln University in New Zealand)

Mr Paul Shattock OBE (Chairman of ESPA (Education and Services for People with Autism) and President-Elect of the World Autism Organisation (WAO))

Dr Malav Trivedi (Post-doctoral Fellow at Northeastern University, USA - Presenter (PI Dr Richard Deth))

David Rex RD (Lead child health dietitian, Health & Social Care - Children’s Services, Highland Council)

Lucy Jones RD (Specialist dietitian working in the NHS, private practice and in the media)