Poor Diet & Aggressive Behavior in Children

By Samantha Hanly
Choice of snacks may have a large impact on children's behavior and levels of aggression.
Choice of snacks may have a large impact on children's behavior and levels of aggression.

We've all heard the adage, "You are what you eat." As science discovers more about nutrition, we are learning that what your kids eat does affect their behavior. One way of helping children control aggressive behavior may be to give them a healthy diet that includes protein, fruits and vegetables.

Early Childhood

A 2004 study at the University of Southern California (USC) found a strong link between infant and toddler malnutrition and antisocial behavior in childhood through adolescents. In other words, a very poor diet during the first few years of life causes aggression later, in children and teens. This study followed children who, at the age of three, had physical symptoms of either protein deficiency, vitamin B deficiency, anemia or zinc and iron deficiency.


The above-referenced study at USC uncovered a link between lack of good nutrition in the first three years and lower IQ. Adrian Raine, a co-author of the study, points out that zinc, iron, protein and vitamin B are all necessary for brain development. While lower IQ does not intrinsically cause aggressive behavior, poor nutrition early in life causes brain deficiencies that result in both lower IQ and aggressive behavior. The three are strongly correlated.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) does not intrinsically cause aggression, but the behaviors of ADHD children often create a dynamic of frustration between child and caregiver or teacher. The mutual frustration may elicit aggression in the child. At the University of Maryland Medical Center, experts discuss diet as a treatment for ADHD. Some parents have found eliminating sugars, artificial sweeteners and artificial colors from children's diets helpful. Feeding the child a diet high in protein and complex carbohydrates may eliminate some of the ADHD behaviors.

Prevent Aggressive Behavior With Fruits and Vegetables

The Harvard School of Public Health has conducted various studies about children's diets and what factors go into children eating more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are good ways to get the vitamins and minerals that help prevent aggressive behavior into your child's diet. They found that two simple things encourage healthier eating in childhood: stocking the refrigerator at home with healthy snacks, such as fruits and vegetables, and eating dinner together as a family. During family dinner, parents serve, eat, and expect children to eat produce.

About the Author

Samantha Hanly is an organic vegetable gardener, greenhouse gardener and home canner. She grows a substantial portion of her family's food every year. After receiving her bachelor's degree, Hanly embarked on a career teaching dramatic arts, arts and crafts, and languages. She became a professional writer in 2000, writing curricula for use in classrooms and libraries.