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CRIME-NUTRITION LINK A HOT TOPIC; SYMPOSIUM TO BACK BETTER DIET AS METHOD TO REDUCE VIOLENCE.

Byline: Lee Condon Daily News Staff Writer

Wondering why junior has turned out to be a juvenile delinquent?

Thinking about tough love, maybe sending him to boot camp or military school?

Well if you really want him to change his ways, start with what goes in his lunch box. Feed him more vegetables and fruits. Dump the cakes, cookies and muffins.

At least that's the advice of the doctors and nutritionists and the other members of the Los Angeles County Task Force on Nutrition, which will hold a symposium Thursday with a simple theme: Good nutrition could reduce crime.

While it might never completely replace other crime-fighting techniques like putting more cops on the beat, eating right can make a difference, says Dr. David Chen, a radiologist who chairs the task force.

``Behavior is affected by nutrition. If people don't eat right, they have have more anxiety. If they have anxiety they will do more bad things,'' Chen said. ``A lot of crime is related to depression. It's psychological. They can't tolerate the stress.''

Better food in jail

The task force has been working along these lines for years, advising the Sheriff's Department to serve more wholesome food in county jails. Before task members reviewed the menu, inmates were eating a lot of doughnuts and junk food, said Frank DeSantis Jr., vice chairman of the task force and owner of two Pizza Pete's Restaurants in Glendale.

The county's Task Force on Nutrition is made up of volunteers and is not supported with public funds. It raises money by holding symposiums, seminars and training events at which it offers the chance for nurses and nutritionists to receive continuing education credits, DeSantis said. In the past, the events have been accredited by the California Dietary Association.

The idea for the task force came from Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich in 1981, when he called for a committee on nutrition after the Board of Supervisors held a meeting on the root causes of crime in the county. After some speakers suggested better nutrition could help, Antonovich called for the creation of the panel.

Members of the panel acknowledge that so far no one has proved a direct link between junk food and the crime rate. However, various studies during the past 20 years show that in some instances an improved diet has decreased anti-social behavior among inmates, said Alexander Schauss, director of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma, Wash., and the author of several books on the subject - including ``Diet, Crime and Delinquency,'' published in 1980 by Parker House of Berkeley.

A cure for crime?

``I don't know anyone who has ever said diet is a cure to crime,'' Schauss said. ``What we have said is it's been one of the most obvious, yet neglected, areas of research.''

Besides his own research, Schauss cited the work of Stephen Schoenthaler, criminology professor at California State University, Stanislaus, who has done a series of studies at prisons and juvenile reformatories in five states.

``All of his studies have confirmed that dietary intervention reduces the rate of deviancy and anti-social behavior,'' Schauss said.

Schauss, a former probation administrator, said his first books on the subject, published in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were skewered by skeptical criminologists.

``They wouldn't even think of nutrition as a factor,'' Schauss said. ``Nobody sits you down and says `What's your diet like?' ''

Schauss advises parents of juvenile delinquents to have their child examined by a doctor to see if they have vitamin deficiencies or food allergies that may be causing them undue stress or discomfort.

Although Schauss believes better diets may help calm down people prone to criminal behavior, it is not a cure-all.

``I don't believe there is a cause and effect,'' he said. ``The most a poor diet does is to contribute to poor brain function.''

He credits the Los Angeles County jails with being in the forefront in this area.

``They have attempted to establish some uniform policies in the food services,'' Schauss said.

Adrian Raine, a clinical neuroscientist who specializes in the biological basis of crime and anti-social behavior, said the crime-nutrition link is still a hypothesis and needs to be studied further before large-scale programs are started.

``There are some initial and provisional findings out there that are very interesting. We should make an attempt to determine whether there is a link or not. That way we will, if we should, get away from what could be a red herring,'' Raine said.

Barry King, chief of custody for the Sheriff's Department, said that regardless of what doctors say, his opinion always has been that inmates will be on better behavior if they are properly fed.

``My experience is that if you feed a person a reasonable meal, it's one less thing to be concerned about,'' King said.

There are a variety of subjects to be discussed at the symposium. Chen said he hopes all the speakers will take the time to look at nutrition and crime.
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 9, 1997
Words:833
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