Then and now: How a new diet changed this little boy's life

Inside Britain's Schools: Schools are waking up to the link between processed food and disruptive behaviour. Now ministers must catch up
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The Independent Online

The teachers had lost patience; his mother was at her wits' end. Even the psychologists were unable to cope with seven-year-old Reece De-Allie, whose hyperactive temper tantrums were destroying his own prospects and helping to wreck lessons at his south London school.

The teachers had lost patience; his mother was at her wits' end. Even the psychologists were unable to cope with seven-year-old Reece De-Allie, whose hyperactive temper tantrums were destroying his own prospects and helping to wreck lessons at his south London school.

Yet, in the space of a single week, Reece was transformed thanks to a simple change of diet. Cutting out sugar and adding nutrients produced an attentive, helpful student his own family could barely recognise.

According to his mother, Joanna, the result is a "miracle". For a growing number of parents and teachers, however, it is plain common sense.

There is mounting evidence that sugar-rich foods and a shortage of fresh vegetables are linked to ill-discipline, disruption and the explosion in the numbers of children described as "hyperactive" or diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder.

The decline in classroom behaviour - illustrated in the IoS Inside Britain's Schools series - has become a top priority for ministers. Tony Blair has promised a new "culture of respect" in schools, while Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Eduction, has threatened "zero tolerance" of disruption.

Yet, according to dietary experts, ministers are still failing to acknowledge the links between poor eating habits, academic failure and the steady increase in classroom disruption. The Department for Education and Skills, for example, does not employ a single nutritionist. Despite the Government's promise of extra cash for school meals, many schools are still locked into long-term contracts with catering companies that specialise in providing processed food. English schools still have vending machines dispensing fizzy drinks, although they are now banned in Scotland. There is still no decision on whether or not to ban prime-time advertising for junk food.

Joanna De-Allie, though, has been left in no doubt. Reece's entire class seemed to benefit from the short, sugar-free experiment that took place at the school, with parents reporting calm behaviour and improved sleep.

In Reece's case, though, the change was dramatic. "I was very sceptical at first but I can't believe the difference," said his mother. "He is a great deal calmer and finds it easier to sleep and to pay attention in class. He wants to do more at school and he has even gone up a whole year's reading age in a matter of weeks. There are still times when he's hyperactive, butlike he was."

Teachers around the country are starting to report similar experiences. St Barnabas First and Middle School, in Drakes Broughton, Worcestershire, saw dramatic improvements after it had removed 27 artificial colourings and preservatives from its menu. Windsor high school in Halesowen reported a new, calm atmosphere after removing the fizzy drinks vending machine.

The point was made dramatically in a recent televised experiment on ITV1's Tonight with Trevor McDonald, where three boys whose history of ill-discipline meant no school would take them were calmed down by just one month on a new diet.

Richard Taylor, a 14-year-old from Manchester, was one of them. He switched from a menu of crisps and yoghurt to a regime without gluten or milk, plus regular mealtimes. And the result was not just an improvement in behaviour, but also academic success. "By tea time he'd be swinging on the doors, saying he's bored," said his mother, Angela. "Now if he makes a mistake he acknowledges it, which is a real step forward. It won't cure his ADHD, but it has calmed him down from his hyperness. He's done his SAT tests, which I never thought he'd take. He's done well, too."

Both experiments were conducted by Patrick Holford, a prominent nutritionist who is lobbying the Government to recognise the evidence that diet and behaviour are linked. "I'm frustrated that so little attention has been paid when we already have good scientific evidence to show how to help," he said.

A spokesman for the DfES said ministers are committed to improving the content of school meals. "We're taking the issue extremely seriously," he said. The Government has already established a school meals task force to consider what nutritional standards should be introduced in September 2007.

NEXT WEEK: THE EXPERT VIEW

For the past five weeks we have charted the growing problems of indiscipline and violence in schools. We have described how teachers are assaulted in the corridors, and pupils tormented by the bullies. Next week we conclude our series as experts from the world of education say how we should tackle an issue that is quickly becoming a priority for schools.

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