The Healthy Foundation, a California non-profit organization, has been working to actualize the public health potential of good nutrition by making daily multivitamin supplements available free of charge to homeless individuals, indigent families and marginalized elderly people at risk for nutritional deficiency.
Over the last 5 years, the Foundation’s “Vitamin Relief USA” program has distributed multivitamin/multimineral tablets to tens of thousands of people at risk for serious nutritional deficiencies and the attendant health consequences. Comprised of five distinct projects reaching specific subpopulations, Vitamin Relief USA is now active at 250 urban and rural sites in 41 states.
A host of studies show that increasing vitamin and mineral intake can markedly improve the lives of vulnerable people, especially children and adolescents. In one survey of 1.1 million school children, improved diet led to a 16% improvement in academic performance, and a nearly 50% reduction in the number of kids diagnosed with learning disabilities. Another study involving 80 juvenile delinquents showed that daily multivitamin/mineral supplementation reduced antisocial behavior by approximately 40% after three months. In a comparison of schoolchildren from Arizona and California, those who took supplements improved academically at twice the rate of those who did not.
Several studies have shown that increasing nutrient intake to current DRI levels or better can increase IQ in at-risk children. Improved nutritional status can even improve academic performance in children with significant learning difficulties.
Poor nutrition correlates with violence. In a study of incarcerated adults, there was a clear inverse correlation between nutritional status and violence: inmates who were the most violent offenders had the lowest daily vitamin intake. The good news is this is reversible. A study of over 8,000 juvenile offenders showed that improved diet alone reduced violence and nonviolent antisocial behavior by 48%.
The Healthy Foundation endeavor began by providing lunchtime multivitamins to people at a homeless shelter in San Luis Obispo, CA. Since then, it has grown to include many other centers serving homeless people throughout California. The “Senior Support” program, a pilot project, was begun to address the startling levels of malnutrition among elderly people. The program now provides basic nutrition to 1,100 indigent, at-risk seniors. The Foundation plans to expand this program nationally in the near future.
The Foundation’s two programs for kids, “Children First,” and “Operation IQ,” now serve over 13,000 kids. A separate program called the Better Student Research Initiative is providing a “real world” laboratory for studying how vitamin intake and nutritional status affect academic performance.
The hallmark of the Healthy Foundation’s projects is that they bring the nutrients to places where those in need are to be found. Partner sites include public schools, Head Start and Healthy Start programs, homeless shelters, foster care settings, public health departments, faith based community service groups, and hospital outreach programs.
The nutritional supplements, as well as financial support for their distribution come largely from corporate leaders in the natural products industry, including Tishcon, Wyeth, Rexall-Sundown, Capsugel, Natural Factors, Rx Vitamins, Longevity Science, and New Hope Natural Media. Other philanthropic groups as well as private donors have contributed to the Foundation as well.
Last year, the Foundation’s efforts caught the attention of Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), ultimately resulting in a $500,000 appropriation from the federal Department of Education that will allow the Foundation to undertake an in-depth study of the impact of vitamin intake on school performance of at-risk children.
Adam Perlman, MD, director of the Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, will lead the trial. It will involve 1,500 fourth-graders in an urban New Jersey school district, who will be randomized to receive daily vitamins or placebo. The investigators will assess a host of outcomes including standardized test scores, grade point averages, lateness, absenteeism, and behavior.
The Healthy Foundation’s website (www.thehealthyfoundation.org) includes a research library with several thorough and excellent reviews of the science on how nutrition affects behavior, intellectual development, and physical health. To learn more about the Healthy Foundation and to make a contribution, visit the site or write to: The Healthy Foundation, PO Box 888, Murrieta, CA 92564-0888. Tel. 951-696-0552.