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In 1974, a self-help book written by Ben F. Feingold (1899–1982) entitled Why Your Child Is Hyperactive arrived on the shelves of bookstores across North America.1 On the surface, the Random House publication was not particularly exceptional. By the mid-1970s, hyperactivity, a disorder characterized by hyperactive, impulsive, inattentive, aggressive, and defiant behavior, was the most commonly diagnosed childhood psychiatric disorder in the United States.2 Many other books, including primers, self-help books, and medical textbooks, had also been written about the disorder. Medical journals such as the American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry (JAACP) and Pediatrics had published hundreds of articles on the disorder and the pharmaceutical companies that advertised on their pages made millions on the sales of hyperactivity drugs such as methylphenidate , better known as Ritalin. The popular magazine Life had published a seven-page article on hyperactivity in October 1972. Perhaps most indicative of the emergence of hyperactivity as a disorder of both medical and social significance was the publication of two books, Peter Schrag and Diane Divoky’s The Myth of the Hyperactive Child: And Other Means of Child Control (1975) and Peter Conrad’s Identifying Hyperactive Children: The Medicalization of Deviant Behavior (1976), which questioned the very existence of the disorder.3 Feingold’s Why Your Child Is Hyperactive was also contentious but in a completely different way. Unlike psychiatrists who blamed the disorder on unresolved family conflict, socioeconomic problems, or, increasingly, neurological dysfunction, Feingold, a well-known San Francisco allergist, argued that the ingestion of food additives triggered hyperactivity. Basing his Food for Thought Chapter 1 1 hypothesis on his clinical observations of hyperactive children as well as decades of experience researching and treating allergy, Feingold announced that hyperactivity could be alleviated with a diet free of these substances, a diet soon dubbed the Feingold diet. Almost immediately Feingold’s hypothesis attracted attention. Spurred by media reports, Feingold’s books, and word of mouth, thousands of parents tried the diet and discovered that it appeared to ease the symptoms experienced by their children. Some were so convinced of the Feingold diet’s efficacy that they founded the Feingold Association of the United States (FAUS), which developed lists of “Feingold-friendly” foods and provided support to member families. The media also picked up on Feingold’s story. He and his diet were featured on popular television programs such as Today and the Phil Donahue Show, in influential newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, and in widely circulated magazines such as Newsweek, making the allergist a media celebrity.4 Shortly before the publication of Why Your Child Is Hyperactive, Senator Glen Beall of Maryland included Feingold’s findings about the perils of food additives in the U.S. Congressional Record. Due in part to this attention, Why Your Child Is Hyperactive, as well as Feingold’s sequel, The Feingold Cookbook for Hyperactive Children, which was co-written by Feingold’s wife, Helene Feingold, became best sellers, the latter reaching fourth place on the New York Times nonfiction best seller list. The proceeds from The Feingold Cookbook were used as an endowment for FAUS.5 Along with media coverage and popular interest, however, came controversy . That the Feingold diet was a matter for heated debate is not particularly surprising, given some of the implications of Feingold’s theory. Feingold’s hypothesis raised alarming questions about the adverse neurological effects of consuming the synthetic colors, flavors, and preservatives found in everything from sodas and candy to cheese and luncheon meat. Hyperactivity was believed to affect anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of American children, depending on how one interpreted the diagnostic criteria, and was thought to prevent children from reaching their educational and vocational potentials. Many psychiatrists also saw hyperactivity as a precursor to subsequent mental health problems and suggested that children who suffered from it were more likely to get involved in crime and drug abuse. More extreme commentators such as Camilla Anderson, who had served in California as chief psychiatrist for the world’s largest women’s prison, believed that the disorder was so pernicious that it warranted eugenic solutions, including the “need for selective population control,” “changing age-old laws and values regarding abortion,” and forced “family limitation” through “‘the pill,’ intrauterine devices (IUD), 2 Chapter 1 sterilization, or whatever techniques were reliable and nonmorbid.”6 Feingold’s hypothesis, if correct...


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MARC Record
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