Do Kids Need a Pill to Succeed?

by Brooke Bernard on October 10, 2012

Every now and then I get complacent when it comes to talking about and teaching about synthetic food dyes and the other chemicals in our “food” supply. For brief moments, I’ll think, “Maybe I’ve said all I can say.” After all, a lot of scientists and parents and writers and activists are fighting the good fight, too. But then, as it always happens, just when I think, “Maybe today I’ll write about my fear of fourth grade homework,” something stops me in my tracks, making it clear that the battle to educate and empower parents about the link between diet and behavior is far, far from over.

It happened today. I was flitting about the Internet just before it was time to get my daughter from preschool when I saw this headline link on “ADHD or not, kids prescribed Adderall to boost school grades.” Thank God I wasn’t drinking anything because I would have spit it all over my computer monitor. Adderall? To boost grades – even if a child isn’t “officially” diagnosed with ADHD? I had to click the link.

I should make it known that I don’t believe for one second that ADHD is a “fake” diagnosis as some people do. I do believe it is often misdiagnosed as something a child has when in fact what a child has is a reaction to the chemicals he’s putting in his body every day in the form of “food.” So, do I think some kids probably need ADHD medication after they’ve given everything else in their family’s power a shot? Absolutely. But here’s the gist of the MSNBC article (which originally appeared in the New York Times): Two powerful pharmaceuticals with black box warnings and with reported side effects including suicidal tendencies, sleep disorders, stroke, heart attack and even sudden death are being given to kids in overcrowded classrooms within lower socio-economic schools to help them boost their focus and their grades – because it’s hard to pay attention and perform well in such a setting. (One of the drugs, Adderall, has been called prescription speed and is said to be highly addictive.) To be clear, it seems there is nothing “wrong” with these medicated kids other than having to navigate a public school system that has failed them. Their circumstances suck. I get that. I agree with that. I have no plan to revamp America’s ailing schools. But are we really going to send a generation of students the message that they don’t have to overcome adversity by pulling up their boot straps and, call me crazy, working for it? They just have to pop a pill? I think that’s really sad.

What makes it doubly sad is that science has proven again and again that kids’ focus, attention to detail, even the quality of their handwriting can be improved by simple changes in their diets. Kids today are bombarded with petroleum based food dyes (Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 5, etc.) in everything from cereal and granola bars and crackers to pickles and toothpaste and ibuprofen. The philosophy some people want to rely on that “A little bit won’t hurt my child,” is not based in reality. In today’s American grocery store, there’s simply no such thing as a little bit of food dye. Just try picking up the “fresh baked” cinnamon rolls, muffins and doughnuts at your local mainstream grocery chain’s bakery. Yellow 5 and 6 are everywhere. It’s coal tar, and it’s linked to asthma and allergies in addition to ADHD and other neurological symptoms.

Making the dietary changes necessary to help our kids feels hard. Because it is hard. At first. I know. I cried the tears. I wondered how it could be done. But when you compare saying goodbye to food dyes to getting a child without an actual neurological problem a prescription to an addictive stimulant simply to “level the playing field,” it isn’t so hard to put down that carton of cinnamon rolls. Isn’t that a less risky approach to boosting our children’s grades or ending their tantrums or helping their sensory disorders? Eliminating toxic chemicals from a child’s diet comes with no side effects. Well, no negative side effects. No hypertension. No lack of sleep. No headaches. Positive side effects of eliminating fake food dyes may come in the form of more smiles and fewer tantrums, no homework battles, no more chewing pencils or clothes, no more bedtime fights, no more inexplicable crying, improved grades and quality of school work, more positive reports from the teacher, less hyperactivity, ability to pay attention. Now that’s what I want to be addicted to!

For the “drugs to boost grades” article I originally referenced, click here.

For more information about my family’s journey with food dye and resources to learn more about why they are so dangerous, follow these links:

Brooke Bernard wants to take moment to tell you she’s not a doctor and she’s sharing her “opinions.” She also wants to tell you that you’ll NEVER regret it if you help your kids go dye-free. Find her on Twitter (sometimes) @BrookeBBlogs.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie October 10, 2012 at 7:41 am

Sad. Just sad. Also, It is unfortunate that this is just one more example of how schools and populations in minority and lower socioeconomic areas are getting the shaft. As was mentioned in the article, the long term effects of these drugs remain unkown. Scary to think about the short term harm, and terrifying to think about the unforseen consequences of this kind of approach.


Rebecca V. October 10, 2012 at 4:51 pm

The article is disturbing on many many levels!!! When will the US population wake up and put actions in place to STOP these toxins from entering our food supply?!? How can this great nation stop failing our children so massively?!?


SH October 10, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Wow — this seems so outrageous that it can’t be true — except it is. What are we thinking?


When I Blink October 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm

This saddens me. A lot.


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