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Daily Candy in Childhood Linked to Adult Aggression


Children who eat candy and chocolate every day are more likely to be violent as adults, according to a Cardiff University (UK) study and reported in the October issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The researchers reviewed data on 17,500 participants of the 1970 British Cohort Study and found that 10-year-old children who ate sweets daily were significantly more likely to have a violence conviction by age 34. This link remained evident even after controlling for other factors such as parenting behavior, economic and social circumstances, and incomplete education after 16.

Several explanations were proposed about the apparent link between daily sweets and adult aggression.

One theory is that additives in the products may contribute. Food additives have been previously linked to hyperactive behavior. Artificial food colorings and preservatives were first discussed as a cause of hyperactivity in the 1970s by allergist Benjamin Feingold. A more recent study in the British Medical Journal found that removing food additives from the diet improved symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

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Chocolate, sugar, cow’s milk, eggs, and wheat, common in candies and other sweet foods, are commonly implicated in triggering hyperactive behavior. Allergic reactions or intolerances to these ingredients are proposed to be the factor in producing hyperactivity and aggression. Sugar, for example, is thought to cause hyperactivity because of its effect on glucose metabolism. When insulin is triggered to remove glucose from the blood stream, catecholamines are released from the adrenal glands to prevent blood sugar from going too low. Some children release too little of the hormone, blood sugar drops too low, and brain activity is disturbed.

Another theory for aggressive behavior is an overall poor diet. Children whose diets are high in sugar and fat, and low in fruits and vegetables miss out on essential vitamins and minerals that are needed for brain development. Chronic malnutrition can affect school readiness in the preschool years and academic performance through high school. The Children’s Health Watch Pediatric Research Network has also linked food insecurity and mental health issues among school-aged children.

A third theory, and probably the most likely, is that children who ate sweets daily may have behavioral issues, which can lead to impulsive behavior and delinquency. An example is not learning the concept of delayed gratification. Delayed or deferred gratification is defined as the ability to wait in order to obtain something that someone wants. The trait is an important component to emotional intelligence, and those who lack the ability suffer from poor impulse control. These personality traits learned as children often carry into adulthood.

More research is recommended to study the apparent link between excessive sweet intake and violence, but it is important to note that a healthy environment is critical to better behavior in both children and adults.

Materials from BBC News, WebMD and the Encyclopedia of Psychology are used in this report.