Daily Candy in Childhood Prevents Violence in Adulthood

October 3, 2009 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

A study published yesterday in U.S. News and World Report shows that the daily consumption of candy in childhood is strongly correlated with the failure to become a violent criminal as an adult.

British researchers followed 17,415 children born in a single week in 1970. 7338 reported eating candy on a daily basis in childhood. Of these, only 24 went on to become violent criminals. Candy eating appears to protect 99.7 percent of children from a future life of crime and misery.

Surprised? It’s no wonder. If you caught the story in the news, you probably heard the headline: “Daily Candy in Childhood Linked to Violence in Adulthood.”

The story reports that 35 of the 17,415 children followed in the study report becoming criminals by age 34, and that 69 percent of these, as opposed to 42 percent of the non-criminals, were daily candy eaters. Based on these numbers, the study author Simon Moore, a senior lecturer in the Violence and Society Research Group at Cardiff University, concludes: “There appears to be a link between childhood diet and adult violence.”

So what’s wrong with this picture?

The way the numbers are presented magnifies a tiny effect. Saying that 69 percent of the adult criminals were childhood candy eaters certainly catches our attention. But this is the same thing as saying that 99.7 percent of candy eaters did not become criminals. Thousands of children who ate candy every day and didn’t go on to lives of violence. If candy eating causes violence, we would expect a much more dramatic result.

Even the lead researcher rejects the link between diet and violence, at least from any nutritional point of view: “We think that it is more to do with the way that sweets are given to children rather than the sweets themselves,” Moore said. “Using sweets to quiet noisy children might just reinforce problems for later in life.” This is behavioral, not nutritional.

Kids with lollipops

Melinda Johnson, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, gives many other good reasons to be skeptical of the “candy causes violence” thesis:

  • Correlation is not causation. Two things might increase together, but both be caused by some other third thing.
  • Daily candy may be a sign of other lifestyle factors that could increase violent behavior. For example, children in violent homes might be more likely to consume candy as an “ease the pain” tool, but the violence itself is the relevant factor.
  • Daily candy might be a sign of poor nutrition overall. That is, it might not be the presence of candy, but the absence of nutritious foods, that leads to developmental or behavioral problems later in life.

So what is this all about? Why would someone even think to try to correlate candy and violence? The question is significant; when you go looking for something, you are much more likely to find it. And in the case of this study, what is effectively a non-finding is being broadcast as news.

Since the nineteenth century, candy has been blamed for a host of moral, social and health evils. Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, decried candy’s “demoralizing effect” and suggested candy eating would lead to sexual dissipation;  the Women’s Christian Temperance Union cautioned that candy eating in childhood was likely to lead to alcoholism in adulthood; progressive reformers at the turn of the century worried that uncontrolled candy eating would lead inexorably to stealing, gambling, and smoking.

Today’s headlines continue in this venerable tradition of candy-bashing. Candy is an easy target. We all “know” its bad, somehow, even if we can’t figure out exactly why.

There is something that adults don’t like about the spectacle of children eating candy. The latest headlines confirm deeply held suspicions that children’s tastes and pleasures are essentially corrupt. The claim that “candy causes violence” is just another (fallacious) reason to deprive children of a pleasure that, in moderation and with a dose of tooth-brushing and good food, is generally viewed by most scientific experts as being pretty harmless.

I say, give the kids their apples and their broccoli and their grilled chicken breasts, definitely. But give the kids their candy, too.

More: Susan at the National Confectioners Association official blog Candy Dish responds to the study with a reminder that how kids grow up is about parenting, not candy.

Image: Kids are for illustration purposes only. No actual kids were harmed in the posting of this blog.

Entry filed under: Current Candy News, Health, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , .

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

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