He said the studies have shown the strongest link to mood disorders and depression, and he believes omega-3 supplements may work just as well as anti-depressants. Studies have shown promise in areas but are less conclusive, he said.
"But from my estimation, there's no harm in trying supplements," he said. "You're not going to hurt anything by ensuring added nutrition for the brain, and this could be a really cost effective policy."
No doubt, many children in Baltimore lack proper nutrition, which officials at the Health Department and schools have been seeking to tackle through a number of programs.
Health department officials point to a 2007 survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that: three-quarters of city high schoolers ate less than the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, 22 percent did not eat fruit and half did not eat a green salad in the week before the survey, more than a third drank a soda a day and about a quarter were slightly or very overweight. Many of the city results were below national averages.
In city schools, spokeswoman House-Foster said "nutrition and learning go hand in hand," and officials have been looking at improving the cafeteria menus by adding more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and vegetarian options. There also are other programs such as a city farm where kids can learn about healthy foods.
"It's been on our agenda," she said. "Each year we try and ratchet it up one more step. Each year we want to do more to help the kids and families understand the link between good nutrition and learning."
Ethics and clinical experts in Baltimore suggested in the Abell report that any study of these kids be done when they were young and the benefits could be greatest but that the benefits and risks such as nausea and conflicts with current medication be fully explained to participants. They also suggested convening a panel to discuss the issues and design an ideal study. Abell has asked Hopkins' Bloomberg school to do this, but officials there declined to comment because they will not begin forming the panel until fall.
If the logistics of a proper scientific study are worked out, and safety issues are measured for individual students, at least one local school operator said she'd be interested in participating. Muriel Berkeley, president of the Baltimore Curriculum Project, a nonprofit that runs four city charter schools, has witnessed food make a difference in student behavior.
As a third grade teacher years ago, she said, she and other teachers discovered one bright little boy was behaving badly after eating sugar. They spoke to his mother, modified his diet, and the problems disappeared. When they reappeared one day, they noted the date — it was Halloween.
"That's just one anecdote, and not scientific, but it showed me that it makes a difference," she said of proper nutrition. "When the kids are eating well, they come to school healthy and ready to learn."
At one of Berkeley's schools, Hampstead Hill Academy, officials have introduced nutrition classes where students learn what to eat for good health and how to prepare it. They also help grow healthy food in a school garden. Such classes are ramping up at her other schools, too.
But until each Baltimore City student can be taught about proper nutrition and is motivated to eat well, supplements may be a solution, she said.
"I'd absolutely like to hear about it," she said.
Abell's full report can be found at http://www.abell.org.
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