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Candy and Obesity: Are More Treats Good for Kids?

When it comes to candy and obesity research, it's best to study the study.

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Halloween Candy

Unwrapping the Candy and Obesity Study

Is eating more candy an anti-obesity strategy? That would have Willy Wonka dancing a jig with the Oompa Loompas and the rest of the candy industry.

A controversial study from Louisiana State University published in the peer-reviewed  journal Food & Nutrition Research (2011) showed that kids and adolescents who ate candy were significantly less likely to be overweight or obese.

The research was  funded in part by the National Confectioners Association.  It tracked the health of more than 11,000 youngsters, ages 2–18, from 1999 to 2004. They found that children who ate sweets were 22% less likely to be overweight or obese than kids who did not indulge. Adolescents who ate candy were 26% less likely to be overweight or obese than their non-candy-eating counterparts. Data was self-reported by subjects in 24-hour dietary recalls.

The research also showed that the blood of candy-eating kids had lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). This is the marker of inflam­mation in the body and a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses.

The Reality is Less Sweet

So for Halloween, should you gleefully throw fistfuls of sweets into the neighbor kids’ candy buckets?

Put the brakes on and keep things in perspective, said lead researcher Carol O’Neil, PhD, MPH, LDN, RD. “The results of this study should not be construed as a hall pass to overindulge,” O’Neil said in a written statement. “Candy should not replace nutrient-dense foods in the diet. It is a special treat and should be enjoyed in moderation.”

Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, CSSD, FAAP, a pediatrician and dietitian at Children’s Primary Care Medical Center in Carlsbad, California, takes a harder line. She warns that the results should be viewed by health and fitness professionals with extreme caution. And she gives three reasons for this misleading candy and obesity connection:

“First, this study has a major conflict of interest in that it’s funded by the sugar industry. Any study that is funded by the industry that its results support should raise serious red flags,” Muth observes.

“Second, the study results don’t make any sense. Candy consumers ate way more calories and sugar than nonconsumers. It defies nature that the candy consumers ate more calories but weighed less. Unless you want to believe that eating candy somehow increases metabolism to burn more calories, these results just don’t make sense.”

Finally, she says, if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is. “Who would believe that you can eat more junk food and end up healthier? Very unlikely.”

See also: Childhood Obesity Stats Remain Grim

Seeing the Big Picture

As for the CRP, Muth downplays the difference, saying that for starters, “the baseline risk of cardiovascular disease in kids is lower to begin with. While CRP as a marker for adults may be meaningful, it probably doesn’t add up to much for kids,” she explained.

“Overall, I don’t think fitness professionals should make much of this study at all—other than that it’s not a very good study,” Muth concludes. “I certainly wouldn’t advise clients to tell their kids to start eating more candy. In order for this data to inspire serious discussion, it would at least need to be replicated by independent scientists not funded by the sugar industry.”

See also: Kids and Sugar Sweetness

Updated 10/18/21.

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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