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Candy Doesn't Increase Weight, Cardiovascular Risks in Children


A new study suggests that children who eat candy do not experience weight gain nor cardiovascular risk factors when compared with kids who don’t eat candy. However, this finding is not a license for kids to load up on the sweet stuff.

Candy should be considered a treat

The study, which was led by Carol O’Neil, PhD, MPH, LDN, RD, of Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, evaluated the effects of total, chocolate, and sugar candy consumption on caloric intake, fat, added sugars, weight, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in children ages 2 to 13 years old (7,049 subjects) and adolescents 14 to 18 years old (4,132 subjects).

The study subjects had participated in the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Researchers used 24-hour dietary recalls to identify how much candy the young people consumed.

The younger children consumed an average of 11.4 grams of candy (chocolate and sugar candy) daily while adolescents ate an average of 13.0 grams. Even though the candy-consuming young people had higher intake of calories (2,248.9) compared with their non-candy-eating peers (1,993.1), weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and other weight-related measures were lower in the candy consumers.

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Overall, young people who ate candy were 22 percent less likely to be overweight and 26 percent less likely to be obese than were their non-candy-consuming peers. In addition, cardiovascular risk factors, blood pressure, and blood lipid levels did not differ between the candy eaters and the non-candy consumers.

The only factor that differed between the two groups was that sugar candy consumers had lower C-reactive protein levels than did young people who did not eat candy. C-reactive protein is a substance released by the body in response to inflammation, and inflammation is associated with a variety of medical conditions, including coronary artery disease.

O’Neil warned that although the study results indicate that children and adolescents who eat candy are less likely to be overweight or obese, the findings “should not be construed as a hall-pass to overindulge. Candy…is a special treat and should be enjoyed in moderation.”

The reasons for the study’s findings are not clear. One possible explanation is that candy-eaters may have an ability to balance their caloric intake with calories used over time. The researchers did discover, however, that diet quality was similar in candy and non-candy eaters and that overall diet quality was very poor for both groups.

This study’s findings suggest that children and adolescents who eat candy are not jeopardizing their weight nor increasing their cardiovascular risk. However, as with most things, moderation is the key.

O’Neil CE et al. Food & Nutrition Research 2011; 55:5794. Doi: 10.3402/fnr.v55i0.5794