Sunday, 24 June 2007

You Are What You Eat – Nutrition and Well-being

I’ve just returned from the Open University Psychological Society's three day Psychology of Wellbeing Conference at Nottingham University. Amongst others, the speakers included Dr Richard Stevens (of BBC2s ‘Making Slough Happy’ fame), Oliver James (a man who enjoys courting controversy in e.g. Britain on the Couch , They F*** You Up , Affluenza ), and Dr Alex Linley, Director of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology in Warwick and currently researching the application of psychological strengths.

This morning, Bernard Gesch, Senior Research Scientist at Oxford University and Director of the research charity Natural Justice , presented ‘Reuniting mind and body: Diet, health and behavioural wellbeing’. The argument is straightforward – what we eat has a scientifically proven impact on brain functioning and thus on behaviour. Clinical trials have been carried out in which the behaviour of UK maximum security prisoners has been shown to be vastly improved by remarkably simple changes in their nutrition .

Gesch is currently working on further prison studies, however, it is clear that the current government is slow to support this research, and unlike the Dutch government, hasn’t yet introduced changes to prison diets despite the compelling evidence that to do so reduces the amount of violence in prisons, as well as reducing re-offending rates if the nutritional changes are continued. As Gesch points out, dietary changes are a small price to pay for such a large benefit in society. Perhaps the diet at Whitehall needs to include more zinc, iron and Omega-3 in order for them to see sense….

In my next few posts I’ll be introducing highlights from some of the other conference presentations, including Oliver James’ argument that Positive Psychologists would be better off working out how to reduce the soaring depression rate in the UK and the USA, rather than waste time focusing on how to improve wellbeing. Perhaps he has a point.

And whether or not you were at the conference, do share your thoughts on these and other Positive Psychology topics with us.

2 comments:

Yang-May said...

I'm looking forward to your views re helping depression versus improving wellbeing. If we do the latter, will that reduce the need for the former?

Bridget said...

Hi Yang-May, you have raised a very good point. It all depends on whether the absence of illness is the same as good health. Personally I don’t think it is, and what’s more, I think that even those who are well (mentally and physically) have potential to improve. You could, however, argue that our priority should be to alleviate suffering before we concern ourselves with optimal functioning. It’s a difficult question to answer as the evidence seems to suggest that the majority of people in the world are relatively happy (at about 7/10). So we’ll definitely be picking this up again in a later post.