A pilot program to test the effects of vitamin and mineral supplements on inmates at UK young offenders' institutes will be carried out to see if adequate nutrition helps curb violent behaviour.
The pioneering move follows years of work by Natural Justice, which secured £1.45m to carry out a program from the Wellcome Trust charity.
Natural Justice has been developing a new approach to combating violent and anti-social behaviour. It believes there is insufficient emphasis on the nutrition needs of the brain - a key factor in governing behaviour.
The charity's director is Bernard Gesch, an Oxford scientist, whose work has centred around addressing nutritional needs to improve behaviour in adults with serious social and mental problems and criminal convictions.
A double-blind placebo-controlled study conducted by Gesch and colleagues from the University of Surrey in 2002 found evidence that giving vitamin, mineral and essential fatty acid supplements to young adult prisoners (aged 18 to 21 years) considerably reduced antisocial behaviour including violence.
Published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the study concluded that the implications were similar for those eating poor diets in the community.
Gesch's involvement is particularly pertinent at a time when prisons, particularly in the UK, are full to bursting point and governments are looking for ways to reduce the inmate population.
This trial will use male prisoners aged 16 to 21 in Young Offenders' Institutions. The volunteers will take daily supplements of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids or placebos for a four month period. Their behaviour before and after will be monitored by the Prison Service.
The Prison Service said the study has the potential to add to policy on behaviour management. A spokesperson told NutraIngredients.com said: "We hope the study will shed further light on the possible links between nutrition and behaviour among young people."
In the past Gesch has called for more research in this field, and has asked the government and food industry to help.