There is a strong relationship between nutrition and juvenile delinquency. Nutritional deficiencies can impact human behavior. It is also a known fact that food constituents like caffeine, sweeteners and alcoholic beverages can have negative impact on human behavior. Also, malnutrition can make a person negative towards society. Therefore, one cannot segregate the impact of nutrition on juvenile’s behavior and actions.
Every human action is a result of some internal or external stimuli. These stimuli are observable as our environmental factors. In other case they are non observable like our genetics. Observable stimuli or our environment is something that we can control. In other words, if we can control the environment we can control the behavior. Nutrition is an important part of our environment, therefore, it is a strong stimuli for good or bad behavior.
The question arises that how and why nutrition and diet can impact a juvenile’s behavior. Also, what is the extent of the impact and what other factors can promote the impact.
Nutrition and juvenile behavior
There are certain nutritional problems that can pose greater risk on juvenile behavior. Because, it is a proven fact that poor nutrition can lead to poor brain function. The adolescent cannot make good decisions with poor nutrition. Also, negativity is the obvious result of poor diet and nutrition. A good behavior is the outcome of the healthy brain, heart, and body.
Violence is one major outcome of poor nutrition in juvenile. One study (Gesch 2013) suggested that 26% of the subjects showed less violent behavior after they received a diet that fulfilled their recommended dietary allowance. Other studies also proved that a significant number of subjects (48%) showed less violent and antisocial behavior.
Malnutrition is the lack of proper nutrition. It may mean taking less nutrients that does not fulfill the daily recommended intake. Malnutrition also means poor nutritional choice that can cause obesity.
Undernourishment is one major concern around the world in many countries. Many nutrients like protein and iodine deficiency mean poor brain growth and function.
The rate of obesity is increasing around the world and if you see closely it is higher among teenagers. The consumption of fatty and sugary junk foods is one most obvious cause of this. Some of the recent research links the intake of high caloric diet to memory problems in adolescents. Other problems associated with obesity and consumption of junk food includes the following:
- Learning inability and disruption
- Dementia and short term memory problems
- Cognitive decline
- Behavioral problems
- Attention and decision making problems
One study suggests that poor brain control and behavioral problems arise from obesity. As a result of this the adolescent might indulge in other unhealthy activities like excessive drinking, smoking, and drugs use. Also, it can lead to risk-taking behavior in adolescents. For example, driving dangerously, sexual behavior, or smoking just for fun.
There are many reasons why teenagers prefer to eat junk food. One such reason is that teenagers’ brain look for immediate enjoyment and fun that they receive from any activity. The consumption of junk food gives them immediate satisfaction. On the other hand adults’ brain think more about the later outcomes of their choices. This makes it really difficult for the adolescents to make right choices that have long term health benefits.
A good company can help an adolescent engage in eating healthy food. While, poor company can lead to encouragement to eat unhealthy.
Specific dietary constituents
Sugar and other sweet components of food trigger poor brain function. Scientists explain that excessive sugar intake can result in poor function of the hippocampus region of the brain. This region of brain is responsible for learning function and memory. So, taking too much sugar may result in poor performance of the teenager in the school. It may also result in aggression, lethargy, memory issues, low self esteem and dangerous risky behaviors.
One fact about the consumption of sugary food is that it fills the stomach leaving behind no place for healthy food. For example, food rich in protein may be low in sugar and fats. As well as, there are other good food that provide good source of minerals and vitamins. Most of the time these food are low in sugar and they are good source of fats. As a result the adolescent will miss on the good nutrients that can help boost good mental development.
Another fact about the high sugar diet is that it can boost the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine
Caffeine is an important dietary constituent that teenager consume that may cause negative impact on brain. It is important to understand that the negative impact of opiates, and cocaine are so important o gauge that caffeine becomes a secondary source of addiction in adolescents. This does not however means that caffeine does not have addictive impact on brain.
When talking about the benefits of caffeine we already know that it can do the following:
- improve alertness, arousal etc
- Improve motor activities
- Reduce feelings of fatigue
What we miss here is that all of the above mentioned benefits are temporary and on the expense of caffeine addiction. Secondly, when caffeine reduces night time sleep we need more caffeine in day to improve our alertness. Some other studies suggest increase in anxiety, hypertension, agitation, and irritability due to excessive use of caffeine.
Mental health is at risk because many caffeinated drinks are also high in sugar. So, the adolescent is getting addicted to both caffeine and sugar. One study by Rettew, 2019 explains that caffeine can have adverse effects on behavior. He further says that these effects might be difficult to track back to the actual cause “caffeine”. Because, some adolescents who are already going through behavioral problems will start taking more caffeine. These behavioral problems include anger, aggression, risky sexual behavior, and substance abuse. It is complex and difficult to understand that whether behavioral problems lead to excessive caffeine intake or vice versa.
Underage alcohol consumption can lead to several behavioral and societal problems. Drinking for underage is punishable by law because of it severe worse outcomes. Binge drinking is one major cause of teenage crimes and behavioral problems.
Experts believe that underage drinking can cause memory and motor impairments. Heavy drinking can lead to several car crashes, criminal assaults and risky sexual behavior.
Allergies to dietary constituents
Allergies to different dietary constituents can lead to physical health problems. Therefore, extra caution is always taken by schools and other institutions to make sure that kids allergic to some food may not get any contact. The thing that we do not notice about food allergies is their impact on mental health. Physical health issues can trigger mental health problems as well. Some of the mental health problems associated with allergies include the following:
- Dizziness and lethargy
- Anxiety an aggression
- Fatigue and passiveness
- Hyperactivity etc
Nutrition and juvenile mental health are very much interrelated. In the past, mostly the impact of nutrition on juvenile never took much attention. Today it is a known fact that good nutrition is important for the proper development of the adolescents’ brain.
Anxiety, anger, frustration, dizziness, lethargy, passiveness, pessimist attitude, fatigue, risky sexual behavior, memory problems, and learning problems are some of the most obvious outcomes of poor nutrition.
There is a great deal we need to study and know about the outcomes and contentedness of nutrition and juvenile mental health. But, adolescents need more awareness of the food choices and their outcomes on health.
- Gesch B. (2013). Adolescence: Does good nutrition = good behaviour?. Nutrition and health, 22(1), 55–65. doi:10.1177/0260106013519552
- LaMonica, M. The Conversation. Why sugar is so much worse for teenagers’ brain. https://theconversation.com/why-sugar-is-so-much-worse-for-teenagers-brains-67238
- Rettew, D. C. (Jan 2019). Consider caffeine effects on children and adolescents. Mededge. https://www.mdedge.com/pediatrics/article/192652/mental-health/consider-caffeine-effects-children-and-adolescents
- Turning the tide of malnutrition: Responding to the challenge of the 21st century. WHO. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/66505/WHO_NHD_00.7.pdf