Hugh McQuaid photo

U.S. Rep. John Larson suggested Thursday that Congress could make progress on curbing violence if it temporarily put aside the divisive issue of gun control and focused on ideas with broader support.

Larson hosted a forum with state Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby in the Legislative Office Building Thursday. They heard from a number of experts on issues like the impact nutrition can have on behavior.

Following the several-hour program, Larson said he was looking forward to taking some of the ideas he heard to his colleagues in Congress.

“I do believe there is a willingness down there [in Washington] if we can put guns aside for the moment and focus on both the nutritional aspects and the mental health aspects,” he said.

More than 9,000 people have died as a result of gun violence since the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Larson said. He said the country had to “come together in a comprehensive way” to deal with violence.

The departure from gun-related policy initiatives might be a reflection of political realities in Congress. Six months ago, Larson and other Democrats expressed optimism at an offsite congressional hearing that support could be mustered for policies like requiring background checks to purchase a gun.

On Thursday, Larson was hoping to make progress on less controversial issues.

“As important as universal background checks for handguns are or guns in general, let’s focus on the issues where perhaps we can get agreement in Congress,” Larson said Thursday.

Larson pointed to a study by Cpt. Joseph Hibbeln of the United States Public Health Service, which illustrated a link between nutrition, fatty acids in the brain, and behavior. He said the American “fast food diet” tends to include a lot of soybean oil, which is commonly used in fryolators.

“When [researchers] reduced that and did prison studies and other studies, it showed a reduction in violent behavior because there’s more of a calming sense,” he said.

Hibbeln’s studies have suggested that diets based more on the sorts of fatty acids contained in fish can improve a person’s well-being. At the forum, Hibbeln said he was looking to educate people and stress the critical role diet plays in the makeup of the human brain.

“If we look upstream for [violence] prevention, let’s look at the nutrition that forms the brain, that forms the human being,” he said.

Larson suggested there is an opportunity for Congress to encourage greater collaboration and use nutritional studies to inform policy decisions.