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An Alternative History of Hyperactivity

An Alternative History of Hyperactivity: Food Additives and the Feingold Diet

Matthew Smith
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    An Alternative History of Hyperactivity
    Book Description:

    In 1973, San Francisco allergist Ben Feingold created an uproar by claiming that synthetic food additives triggered hyperactivity, then the most commonly diagnosed childhood disorder in the United States. He contended that the epidemic should not be treated with drugs such as Ritalin but, instead, with a food additive-free diet. Parents and the media considered his treatment, the Feingold diet, a compelling alternative. Physicians, however, were skeptical and designed dozens of trials to challenge the idea. The resulting medical opinion was that the diet did not work and it was rejected.Matthew Smith asserts that those scientific conclusions were, in fact, flawed.An Alternative History of Hyperactivityexplores the origins of the Feingold diet, revealing why it became so popular, and the ways in which physicians, parents, and the public made decisions about whether it was a valid treatment for hyperactivity. Arguing that the fate of Feingold's therapy depended more on cultural, economic, and political factors than on the scientific protocols designed to test it, Smith suggests the lessons learned can help resolve medical controversies more effectively.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5102-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Chapter 1 Food for Thought
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1974, a self-help book written by Ben F. Feingold (1899–1982) entitledWhy Your Child Is Hyperactivearrived on the shelves of bookstores across North America.¹ On the surface, the Random House publication was not particularly exceptional. By the mid-1970s, hyperactivity, a disorder characterized by hyperactive, impulsive, inattentive, aggressive, and defiant behavior, was the most commonly diagnosed childhood psychiatric disorder in the United States.² Many other books, including primers, self-help books, and medical textbooks, had also been written about the disorder. Medical journals such as theAmerican Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), theJournal of the American Academy of Child...

  6. Chapter 2 Why Your Child Is Hyperactive
    (pp. 15-35)

    How have scientists depicted the origins of their discoveries? In order to understand how new medical hypotheses are perceived by physicians and the public, it is helpful to explore how their authors present such ideas. We often learn first about medical advancements such as vaccination, pasteurization, and penicillin by way of captivating tales, often featuring heroic physicians succeeding despite difficult circumstances. Such accounts can be entertaining and even inspiring, but, as many historians have demonstrated, they do not always present an accurate picture of how medical knowledge has developed over time.¹ Reflecting on how pioneering immunologists have described their own...

  7. Chapter 3 Feingold Goes Public
    (pp. 36-50)

    Given Feingold’s desire to make his theory respectable, it seems strange that he chose to publicize his idea not through articles in leading medical journals, such asJAMAorPediatrics, but in a popular book aimed at parents. Prior to his work on hyperactivity, Feingold had published regularly in medical journals. Feingold’s flea bite allergy research in the 1960s, for example, was accompanied by ten articles he wrote or coauthored in scientific journals ranging fromExperimental Parasitologyto theJournal of Immunology. Feingold’s initial observations about the reactions triggered by food additives were also published inAnnals of Allergyin...

  8. Chapter 4 The Problem with Hyperactivity
    (pp. 51-67)

    Without the support of the AMA, it was difficult for Feingold to gain the credibility he desired for his diet, and this problem was compounded by the difficulty of communicating his idea to parents via their physicians. Fortunately for Feingold, Random House’s offer to publish his book in 1974 provided him with an ideal opportunity to present his idea directly to parents and foment a debate about the etiology and treatment of hyperactivity. Random House’s interest also affirmed that while the medical establishment was unwilling to endorse Feingold’s hypothesis, the public was intrigued by the notion that food additives could...

  9. Chapter 5 “Food Just Isn’t What It Used to Be”
    (pp. 68-86)

    The role of chemicals in the food supply was an enormous debate during the postwar period, dividing opinion not only about food but technology, modern lifestyles, and the etiology of disease. While some, such as English psychiatrist Richard Mackarness, advocated a return not only to a chemical-free diet but to a “stone-age diet” based on protein rather than carbohydrates, others, such as nutritionist Frederick Stare and epidemiologist Elizabeth Whalen, believed that food additives were of enormous benefit and a sign of progress.¹ By the time of the emergence of the Feingold diet, most Americans would have agreed with journalist Jacquin...

  10. Chapter 6 The Feingold Diet in the Media
    (pp. 87-110)

    Anxiety about food additives persisted into the mid-1970s, in the face of a recession that threatened to undermine consumers’ willingness to pay for expensive organic foods. As journalist Anna Colamosca reported in 1974, “Despite soaring prices, the $600 million health food industry seems to be holding up well.” Although Colamosca stated that “hundreds of health food stores across the country have gone out of business because they were overcharging in an effort to make a fast buck,” she also believed continuing newspaper stories “related to the food industry have kept many people doggedly returning to their favorite health food stores...

  11. Chapter 7 Testing the Feingold Diet
    (pp. 111-130)

    During the period between the publication ofWhy Your Child Is Hyperactivein 1974 and Feingold’s death in 1982, researchers in the United States, Canada, and Australia designed dozens of trials that tested Feingold’s theory. The prevailing opinion that emerged from these trials, reflected in the medical literature, was that the Feingold diet did not stand up to scientific scrutiny and that parents of hyperactive children should consider other treatments.¹ Despite these conclusions, FAUS and groups such as CSPI argued that tests of the Feingold diet did provide solid evidence in support of Feingold’s hypothesis.² It is understandable that certain...

  12. Chapter 8 Feingold Families
    (pp. 131-152)

    Regardless of the conclusions reached by medical researchers about Feingold’s theory, the ultimate arbiters of whether the Feingold diet worked or not were hyperactive children and their parents. Parents had to decide to attempt the diet and adjust their shopping, meal planning, and cooking; monitor their children for compliance; and determine if the diet worked. Their children had to agree to the new regimen, refraining from the processed foods—particularly snacks, drinks, and desserts that they had previously enjoyed—and resisting pressure from peers to surreptitiously eat such items. In some ways, the greatest barrier to acceptance of Feingold’s hypothesis...

  13. Chapter 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 153-168)

    From the manner in which Feingold depicted the origins of his theory to the reasons why it became a popular phenomenon and the way decisions were made about it, the history of the Feingold diet demonstrates how novel medical ideas have had to serve the interests of numerous parties. Physicians, politicians, industries, the media, and patients and their families came to understand the Feingold diet in disparate ways and for different reasons, and this complicated the debates that Feingold’s idea generated. While the media saw the Feingold diet as an exciting story that would sell newspapers, the food and chemical...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-194)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 195-234)
  16. Index
    (pp. 235-243)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 244-245)