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From the manner in which Feingold depicted the origins of his theory to the reasons why it became a popular phenomenon and the way decisions were made about it, the history of the Feingold diet demonstrates how novel medical ideas have had to serve the interests of numerous parties. Physicians, politicians , industries, the media, and patients and their families came to understand the Feingold diet in disparate ways and for different reasons, and this complicated the debates that Feingold’s idea generated. While the media saw the Feingold diet as an exciting story that would sell newspapers, the food and chemical industries saw it as a threat to how it conducted business. Although Feingold families found that the diet gave them hope, many physicians and medical researchers viewed it with suspicion, believing that it discouraged families from accessing reliable treatments for hyperactivity. The history of the Feingold diet suggests that, during the late twentieth century in the United States, medical knowledge was not a steadily growing body of unquestioned information and practices that were universally accepted, but instead a mutable and fluid series of explanations and understandings that vied with each other for legitimacy. The reason an idea appealed to a particular party could have as much to do with politics, ideology, or economics as it had to do with the weight of scientific evidence that supported it or the way it helped patients. An undercurrent to this story has been the use of history as a way to analyze and assess the outcomes of medical debates. Historians bring critical and contextual perspective to understanding why certain medical theories achieved legitimacy and others did not and, as such, are in a position to help inform public health policy. While some historians have begun to address such Conclusion Chapter 9 153 issues with reference to the history of medicine and health, such accounts have often failed to deconstruct how scientific knowledge is made authoritative or, conversely, have applied social theories too bluntly in an attempt to explain the uptake of particular medical ideas. The history of the Feingold diet suggests that the development of psychiatric and immunological knowledge has been a subtle, complex, and often contradictory process, one that reveals as much about the elements of the society involved as it does about science. It provides not only a case study about an unusual explanation for hyperactivity but shows how changes in the ways Americans understood and dealt with mental illness and allergy during the twentieth century reflected broader debates about the education of children, the testing of scientific ideas, the use of psychoactive drugs, the presence of chemicals in the food supply, and the role of parents in determining which medical treatments were best for their children. It suggests that, as society evolves, attitudes to medical notions once presumed to be incorrect can also change. In 2004, an article appeared in the Archives of Disease in Childhood that put Feingold’s theory to the test yet again. Bowing to public pressure, the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) had issued a call for proposals to test whether the behavior of children in the general population was affected by food additives.1 The research group that was awarded the funding was from the University of Southampton and was led by psychologist Jim Stevenson. The group designed a double-blind trial that tested the behavioral responses of 277 three-year-old children from the Isle of Wight to challenges of artificial food colorings and the preservative sodium benzoate.2 The team’s focus on the Isle of Wight was interesting because that jurisdiction was also studied by prominent British child psychiatrist Michael Rutter in one of the first epidemiological studies of childhood mental health during the mid-1960s. Rutter later compared the rates of mental illness of children on the Isle of Wight with that of children from inner London in 1970. He found that the London children had twice the rate of mental illness as those from the Isle of Wight, and posited that higher levels of stress affecting not only the children but their parents were responsible for the higher rates. Such findings accorded with the social psychiatry prominent during the 1960s and reflected how social psychiatry had a greater and more enduring impact in Britain than it did in the United States.3 Four decades later the focus was on not the children’s social environment but what they were consuming. Although formal testing...


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