Does eating candy in childhood lead to violence in adulthood, new study asks?

A new study raises more questions than it answers. Nutritionists want to know how sugar in candy fed to children ignite criminal acts when they reach adolescent or adulthood? The theory psychologists tell them is that  when you give children candy regularly, it’s seen as a reward. The candy industry may probably direct parents to make sure their children eat sweets responsibly just as the alcohol industry repeats its advice to adults to drink responsibly.

Pyschologists will remind nutritionists about how children become addicted to foods such as sugar, cheese, chocolate, and meat, by eating the same foods frequently, and especially after performing a valued task as a reward–such as doing chores or homework. The behavior is all about instant gratification.

After getting instant gratification for doing some chore, some behaviorists may say, the children rewarded with candy tend to stop learning how to wait a specific length of time in order to obtain the reward at the end of a chore or learning session. By instant gratification with a candy reward (or even a toy) children have a difficult time being able to defer gratification to a future time.

It’s the inability to defer gratification into the future that may keep a child from learning to control impulsive behavior. Psychologists and nutritionists call children mature when they learn to control impulses and delay gratification of eating a candy reward to a future time set by others or specific achievement goals.

Eat a sweet reward releases dopamine in the child’s brain, that could addict the child to sugar or any other food that’s been called highly addictive–sugar, cheese, chocolate, and meat. But it’s sugar that when placed in a baby’s mouth that releases the feel-good dopamine in the baby’s brain.

The pleasurable sensation of sugar on the tongue of a baby as the dopamine surges through the child’s brain associates the sweet taste of sugar or candy with the person giving the candy or the event. It’s an instant reward the child wants repeated.

So, the researchers theorize that eating candy could push children towards impulsive, quick decision making and behavior. And not being able to delay gratification to receive a reward later usually is associated with impulsive acts, delinquency, crime, and immaturity when they become adults and have to make choices.

The idea of rearing children is to teach them to delay gratification until they get their reward–graduation from school, accomplishment, and skills to become financially independent in adulthood. But how would delaying gratification or impulsive behavior relate to a child frequently being rewarded with candy? And are children given candy to distract them or to keep them quiet or busy not vying for their busy parent’s time?

Scientists emphasize and theorize how frequent candy rewards play a role years later when the child grows up and commits violence. The frequent reward may condition the child’s brain to act on impulse instead of controlling the knee-jerk hostility emotion that leads to road rage and similar violent acts.

An unusual study released in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that there is a link between childhood candy consumption and adulthood violence.  Simon Moore and others from the University of Cardiff followed 17,000 children for the past 40 year and discovered that those that ate candy daily as 10-year-olds were significantly more likely to be arrested for violent crimes as adults.  In fact, 69 percent of the daily sugar eaters had been booked for violence by age 34!  Even after accounting for sociological differences, there was still a significant link between candy and violence.

In the new British study, also noted on MSNBC’s site in an article titled, "Candy-gobbling kids may turn violent as adults," and reported in the scientific study-based  journal article, "Confectionery consumption in childhood and adult violence," researchers have spent the past four decades tracking 10-year-olds’ candy intake and found that those who ate the sweet treats on a daily basis were more likely to be arrested for violent offenses than those who didn’t. The scientists behind the study say that its results support the belief that those who eat healthier foods tend to make better behavioral decisions.

The research noted, according to the abstract, "Diet has been associated with behavioral problems, including aggression, but the long-term effects of childhood diet on adult violence have not been studied." Scientists tested the hypothesis that excessive consumption of confectionery at age 10 years predicts convictions for violence in adulthood (age 34 years).

Data from age 5, 10 and 34 years were used. Children that ate confections daily at age 10 years were significantly more likely to have been convicted for violence at age 34 years, "a relationship that was robust when controlling for ecological and individual factors."

The new results are based on data from the British Cohort Study, a large research effort to chart the long-term health of almost every person born in Britain during a one-week period in April of 1970. That amounts to more than 17,000 people who are assessed at regular intervals. The 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) is a continuing, multi-disciplinary longitudinal study which takes as its subjects all those living in England, Scotland and Wales who were born in one particular week in April 1970.

See: the study, Simon C. Moore, Lisa M. Carter, and Stephanie van Goozen "Confectionery consumption in childhood and adult violence," The British Journal of Psychiatry 2009 v. 195, p. 366-367. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF].  The October 2009 study revealed that 69 per cent of those with a criminal record of violence consumed candy daily as children. The researchers looked at other social and economic factors that might have skewed their findings. When everything was taken into account, the link between sweets and violence persisted.

Resources

Confectionery consumption in childhood and adult violence 

British Cohort Study

Candy-gobbling kids may turn violent as adults

Centre for Longitudinal Studies: British Cohort Study 

 

For more info: browse my books,  Neurotechnology with Culinary Memoirs from the Daily Nutrition & Health Reporter (2009). Or browse: How Nutrigenomics Fights Childhood Type 2 Diabetes & Weight Issues  (2009) or Predictive Medicine for Rookies (2005). Or see my books,  How to Safely Tailor Your Foods, Medicines, & Cosmetics to Your Genes  (2003) or How to Interpret Family History & Ancestry DNA Test Results for Beginners (2004) or How to Open DNA-driven Genealogy Reporting & Interpreting Businesses. (2007). Check out my free audio lecture on Internet Archive, How nutrigenomics fights childhood type 2 diabetes. Photo credits: Flickr.com.

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