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During the period between the publication of Why Your Child Is Hyperactive in 1974 and Feingold’s death in 1982, researchers in the United States, Canada, and Australia designed dozens of trials that tested Feingold’s theory. The prevailing opinion that emerged from these trials, reflected in the medical literature, was that the Feingold diet did not stand up to scientific scrutiny and that parents of hyperactive children should consider other treatments.1 Despite these conclusions, FAUS and groups such as CSPI argued that tests of the Feingold diet did provide solid evidence in support of Feingold’s hypothesis.2 It is understandable that certain parties, for example, the Nutrition Foundation on one hand and FAUS on the other, would interpret the test results in manners conducive to their own vested interests, but this leaves unanswered the question of what the tests of the Feingold diet did in fact reveal. Western society’s faith in the power of scientific knowledge suggests that double-blind clinical trials of the Feingold diet should have unequivocally demonstrated whether Feingold’s idea was tenable. As sociologists Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch explain, randomized controlled trials, of which double-blind trials are the most common and most accurate type, are regarded as the “gold standard for scientific medicine,” the primary means to resolve medical debates.3 Close examination of the tests of the Feingold diet reveals that they were anything but conclusive, revealing an array of positive, negative, and mixed results. What emerges from historical analysis of these trials are not definitive answers about the efficacy of the Feingold diet but more questions about how researchers designed, conducted, and most importantly, interpreted the results. The inconclusiveness of the tests not only suggests that other, Testing the Feingold Diet Chapter 7 111 nonscientific, factors were more influential in shaping the opinions of various parties regarding the Feingold diet, but it raises questions about the effectiveness of double-blind clinical trials in resolving similar debates, particularly those in the fields of psychiatry, nutrition, and allergy. It is clear from reviews of the trials that, while Feingold’s detractors were liable to ignore positive results, his supporters were inclined to downplay negative results, a tendency that was recognized in a recent review of the Feingold diet research literature.4 The trials themselves often contained methodological problems, casting into doubt the perception that they were conclusive one way or the other. Researchers differed considerably with respect to how to interpret their results and, therefore, whether their results should be counted as being supportive or critical. While some researchers were unimpressed if large percentages of their sample reacted to food additives, other researchers were alarmed if only a few of their sample responded strongly. Finally, although Feingold’s detractors consistently claimed that trial results were the basis of their critique, they also attacked the diet using arguments that had nothing to do with the trials, contending, for example, that the diet was an impractical intervention for most American families. Given all of these factors, it would therefore have been difficult for any physician, parent, or policy maker to determine whether the Feingold diet worked or not. What to Test, How to Test, Who to Test: Methodological Difficulties Following Feingold’s presentations to the AMA in 1973 and 1974, five California-based studies were undertaken at medical centers and schools to test his idea.5 Two studies were also carried out in Australia and published in the Medical Journal of Australia, prompting Feingold to visit the country on a lecturing tour in September 1976. None of the studies used control groups, however, and two of those conducted in California were carried out at Kaiser Permanente clinics with the involvement of Feingold himself. The reports from these clinical studies were generally positive and attracted the attention of the media, parents, and physicians.6 Some members of the medical community, however, were not impressed. The Australian studies, for example, generated a considerable number of letters to the Medical Journal of Australia. Although most of the letters were positive, New Zealand psychiatrist John Werry’s editorial (which is discussed in more detail below), was a scathing attack on Feingold’s methods and motives.7 Also concerned that no controlled studies had been conducted to assess the validity of Feingold’s theory, both the FDA and the Nutrition Foundation recommended in 1975 that controlled double-blind 112 Chapter 7 trials be designed to test it.8...


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MARC Record
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