|Into the Mouths of Babes: Hyperactivity, Food Additives, and the History of the Feingold Diet, 1970-Present|
|In 1974 Random House published a popular and controversial book entitled Why Your Child is Hyperactive. Within its pages, its author, allergist Ben F. Feingold, made the inflammatory claim that hyperactivity was caused by food additives and was best prevented and treated with a diet, subsequently dubbed the ‘Feingold diet’, bereft of such substances. Reaction to the thesis was swift. While many physicians attacked Feingold’s theory, others gravitated towards it, providing anecdotal and clinical evidence. Moreover, the media and parents found Feingold’s environmentally-based theory intriguing, as it provided an aetiological explanation for hyperactivity that was both sensible and topical. Soon after Feingold’s death in 1982, however, his theory faded away from mainstream medical attention and was relegated to the fringes of holistic medicine.
In this paper I explore the rise and fall of the Feingold diet. I describe Feingold’s theory, outline the reaction to his unconventional ideas and address why his diet failed to gain widespread acceptance, despite the existence of supportive scientific evidence. In so doing, I argue that social factors, not the scientific trials designed to test the Feingold diet, doomed his idea to the margins of medical practice. Some of these factors include Feingold’s methods and approach to promoting his diet, the professional and economic interests of medical practitioners and the food chemical and pharmaceutical industry and the difficulty of the diet itself. Through its analysis of the Feingold controversy I contend that medical solutions, irrespective of their scientific validity, are impotent unless they adapt to societal pressures.