Reality Check: Does candy turn kids into monsters?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 14:39
Comments Off on Reality Check: Does candy turn kids into monsters?

ND_blog_CrazyCandy_1009_fin Trying to rein in the amount of sugar kids eat is hard enough.  Having a plastic pumpkin full of candy in the house sure doesn't make it any easier.

There are plenty of compelling reasons to limit kids' intake of sugar. Candy is a source of empty calories that can displace more nutritious foods, lead to weight gain, and wreak havoc with insulin metabolism. (Type 2 diabetes used to be called Adult Onset Diabetes, but no more.)

But many parents are also convinced that sugar turns kids into little monsters–making them hyper-active, aggressive, or otherwise unmanageable. Yet the research fails to bear this out.

Is it all in parents' heads? 

Controlled studies have measured the effects of sugar consumption on behavior and cognitive performance and failed to find any connection. See for example this meta-analysis. There have even been interesting studies where parents were asked to observe kids behavior. When the parents thought the kids had eaten sugar, they reported changes in behavior–even when the kids had actually been given a placebo. See this article for more on the sugar-hyperactivity myth.

Just last month, there was an interesting new twist on this: Researchers found that kids who ate candy every day were more likely to be arrested as adults for crimes involving violence, as reported by AP News. The researchers hastened to add that the association is probably more complex than it sounds. It may be, for example, that individuals with poor impulse control eat more candy as kids and then commit more crimes as adults. 

What's a responsible parent to do?

Most parents settle for damage containment and try to strike a balance between nutrition concerns and letting kids enjoy this once-a-year festival. Rather than banning all Halloween candy (now who's the monster?), try to limit the amount that is collected and then dole it out slowly.  One small treat after a healthy meal isn't going to turn your kids into monsters.  Getting your kids up and moving–whether it's to rake leaves, play touch football, or even some Wii tennis–is also an effective way to mitigate the effects of a little extra sugar.  

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