Bullying and the Brain—Is Diet Creating the Problem?

Bullying: Does diet play a role?

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/7815007@N07/

I’m pretty sure I’m going to catch heck for this one.  As parents we would NEVER want to think that the choices we make for our children can create a bully.

It’s much easier to place the blame externally at society, at socioeconomic status (although this IS closely tied to dietary choices) or the other parent or any number of other things.  And clearly, these factors play a role.

However, what is also abundantly clear is that we are doing an incredibly poor job of feeding our little ones’ brains with what they need.  Soda, hot Cheetos and Wonder bread do absolutely nothing positive for the brain.

And it does not matter whether we are talking about depression, anxiety, bipolar, ADHD, autism or aggressive behavior.  The treatment of ANY mental health abnormality in a child has to include dietary choices.  As a parent, if your child is exhibiting any of these behaviors and you just sent him or her off to 7th grade with a Jiffy and Smuckers sandwich on Wonder bread with a side of potato chips and a Sunny Delight to wash it down, you really need to re-evaluate what these choices do to the brain.

A diet that is loaded with the wrong types of fat (chips, conventionally grown beef and chicken) and very little of the right types of fat (olive oil, nuts, seeds, wild caught fish, fully grass-fed beef, avocados) will disrupt brain activity.  The cell membranes of our brain cells are made up principally of fat.  Take in the wrong types of fat and you get the wrong types of messages passed from one brain cell to another.  The opposite is true as well; take the right types of fats and the messages that get passed are more appropriate and solid.

As a parent, we HAVE to take this into consideration, even if your child is otherwise healthy.

This particular study drives this point home.  In it, researchers looked at 13,486 children and adolescents to see if  eating junk food was related to psychiatric distress and / or violent behaviors.  Specifically, junk food included sweets, sweetened beverages and salty snacks.  Here’s what they found:

  • Junk food consumption was related to overall psychiatric distress as well as violent behaviors.
  • In addition, daily consumption of sweetened beverages and snacks increased the likelihood of self-reported psychiatric distress.
  • Violent behavior, which including physical fighting, was 39% more likely in those who had daily consumption of salty snacks.
  • This same daily consumption increased the risk of a child being a victim by 19%.
  • The odds of a child bullying another child was a concerning 55% higher.

I know there are many out there who are going to jump on these conclusions and say that diet has nothing to do with these behaviors, that it all has to do with parenting and socioeconmomic status.  We just don’t know yet, but a very important thing to consider may be that there may be characteristics of patients whose children develop some of the problems noted in this study.  Take high stress, both parents working long hours, overall rushed meals.

It very well may be that the diets of these children, rather than being causative, are really a reflection of how hectic and less focused the home life is.  I guess time will tell.


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.