Willy Wonka is dancing a jig with the Oompa Loompas and the rest of the candy industry.

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

The research, funded in part by the National Confectioners Association, tracked the health of more than 11,000 youngsters, aged 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), the marker of inflam­mation in the body and a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses.

So next month, for Halloween, should you gleefully throw fistfuls of sweets into the neighbor kids’ candy buckets? Put the brakes on and keep things in perspective, says 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, RD, senior resident at UCLA Mattel Children’s hospital, takes a harder line, warning that the results should be viewed by health and fitness professionals with extreme caution, for at least three reasons:

“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.”

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 concluded. “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.”