UPDATE: Food for the Brain have responded to my criticisms by revising the page in question. The new text advises that those caring for autistic children “consider pursuing a wheat and dairy free diet which has proven helpful for some, but not all, autistic children. However we recommend you do so under medical supervision, or supervision of a dietician or nutritional therapist to ensure that suitable replacement foods are included that ensure your child achieves optimal nutrition.” While I haven’t had time to go over the page in detail, this is a clear improvement on the previous advice – and is very welcome.
This means that the version of the Food for the Brain site referred to in the below post is an older (out-of date) version of the site.
Towards the start of the year, the Independent on Sunday reported allegations that a Food for the Brain intervention lead to an autistic girl suffering sleep problems and weight loss. I’ve already pointed out that Holford’s Brain Bio Centre’s online advice for kids with ADHD could also cause problems – because it advocates an overly restrictive diet. However, given the previous problems that Food for the Brain has had, you’d think it would be extremely careful not to give any potentially harmful advice to autistic kids and their parents. Well, you would expect this…
Actually, Food for the Brain’s ‘Action Plan’ for autistic children advises that they “avoid the remove the likely culprit foods such as wheat and dairy from the diet. In any case, avoid additives and preservatives.” Now, I’m not quite sure what ‘avoid the remove’ means – there are enough typos on Holford’s websites that you do wonder whether Holford and colleagues have got their brain-boosting supplement regimes quite right. However, it sounds like Food for the Brain is advising that large numbers of foods should be eliminated from the diets of autistic kids.
There is no mention of the need to seek the advice of a properly qualified medical professional – or any medical professional – to monitor the effects of such a radical intervention. However, when putting children on a restricted diet you do need to be careful that they get the Calories and nutrients they need in order to grow and thrive.
Just to be clear what I find so worrying, I’ll recap out some of what happened around Food for the Brain in the past:
– Food for the Brain put an autistic girl on a relatively restricted diet (despite knowing that she was already, before being put on this diet, “a very poor and fussy eater”). In January, the dietician Catherine Collins alleges that diet this made her lose weight and suffer sleep problems.
– In a March ‘clarification’ in the Independent on Sunday, Holford acknowledges that “[t]he temporary weight loss may have occurred when we put her on a gluten-free diet“.
– Happily, the weight loss was noticed and the girl was put onto a less restricted diet – which included the reintroduction of wheat pasta. Since this was done, the girl “has…regained the weight she lost“.
– Still, the Food for the Brain website advises that autistic children should be put on a gluten and dairy free diet, without mentioning the need to seek medical advice and supervision.
It sounds like the girl who was the subject of the Independent on Sunday’s March story may have been ‘lucky’ – her problems were noted, and she was taken off this gluten free diet. I really hope that no children will be harmed by the advice that is currently on the Food for the Brain website – but, if a restricted diet causes excessive weight loss and/or malnutrition, and if the child isn’t being supervised by a competent professional who can act to correct these problems, the risks really don’t bear thinking about…
This was meant to be a nice, light-hearted entry – but to be honest the thought of a ‘respectable’ charity giving out advice that could harm vulnerable kids (even after past experience should have taught them about the need for supervising this type of diet) makes me sick. Perhaps those running Food for the Brain could use the – no doubt considerable – thinking power of their cooperating brains in order to at least remove the dangerous advice from their website. I mean, before we get onto advice which is wrong and/or not backed up by sound evidence, couldn’t they just remove the advice which could lead to children being hurt.