Childhood candy consumption not to blame for later health risks: NCA backed study

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Study finds no link between childhood candy eating and obesity later in life.
Study finds no link between childhood candy eating and obesity later in life.

Related tags Nutrition Confectionery Sugar Nca

Children can eat candy in moderation without increasing their risk of becoming obese and developing heart problems later in life, according to a study backed by the National Confectioners Association.

Research published in the Journal of Human Nutrition​ found no relationship between childhood candy consumption and cardiovascular risk factors (CVRF) and obesity in young adults.

The NCA funded study by the Louisiana State University and Tulane University said: “...Modest amounts of candy can be added to the diet without potential adverse long-term consequences to weight or cardiovascular risk factors.”

Jack Winkler, a UK scientist campaigning to reduce sugar in food and drink verified the findings, but told us the confectionery industry may soon garner unwanted attention as a key perpetrator of tooth decay.

Method: Bogalusa study

To reach these conclusions the researchers analysed the eating habits from the Bogalusa Heart Study.

Under the Bogalusa study, 355 10-year-old children from Bogalusa, Louisiana, USA, rated their candy eating frequency in a questionnaire and were measured for CVRF and body mass indices (BMIs) in surveys that took place between 1973 and 1984.

The children were measured and surveyed again as young adults, aged 19-38 years.

The cost of obesity

The direct and indirect cost of obesity is estimated at $209m in adults, 20.6% of US health care expenditures. (Cawley and Meyerhoefer​, 2012)

As 10-year-olds, 92% of the study sample reported eating 46 g of candy a day. This figure decreased to 67% at follow-up.

The researchers found no significant differences in the BMIs and CVRFs of low candy consumers (0-19.5 g a day) and heavy consumers (54.8-281.5 g a day) from childhood to adulthood.

The authors therefore rejected that candy consumption in childhood led to obesity and heart problems later in life.

Diabetes crisis

Winkler, former professor of Nutrition Policy at London Metropolitan University and board member of new campaign group Action on Sugar​, an offshoot of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), accepted the findings and told this site: “You can imagine that because the study was funded by the NCA it will be attacked.”

“Sugar is a pleasure not a poison…it’s all about moderate consumption. That’s what the study comes out with. The problem is we eat too much, making the serious diabetes crisis even more serious.”

“The kind of finding in the study will be truer if we get confectionery with a lower sugar content.”

Tooth decay

He added that the findings would not get confectionery off the hook as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) expected revision to its sugar policy would further pressure the industry to reformulate.

WHO recommends that no more than 10% of calories in a person’s diet should come from added sugars, but it is widely anticipated to cut its recommendation to 5% in light of scientific research linking sugar to tooth decay.

Winkler said that the WHO revision was likely to be based on oral clearance rates, in other words: how long a product stays in the mouth.

“Confectionery products tend to be sticky. They stay in the mouth a long time and stick to your teeth.”

Reformulation and dehabituation

The former professor said that he favored two strategies to reduce sugar in confectionery products: Reformulation and dehabituation.

Reformulation involves replacing all or part of the sugar with something else, such as an alternative sweetener, while dehabituation relies on slowly and incrementally reducing the amount of sugar in products because taking a grand jump could alienate consumers.

“Palates can be trained and habituated to new flavors,”​ said Winkler.

J Hum Nutr Diet.
'Candy consumption in childhood is not predictive of weight, adiposity measures, or cardiovascular risk factors in young adults: the Bogalusa Heart Study.'
Authors: O’Neil C.E., Nicklas T.A., Liu Y. & Berenson G.S. 

Related topics R&D Chocolate Health & Functionality

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1 comment

It would be nice to ask "When?" as well as "How much?"

Posted by Jon Yaffe,

I'm less concerned with the ACA as a sponsor of the study than I am with the age at which the sampling was performed. The impact of sugar ingestion may be far more significant earlier in development than at the age of 10, when the data samples were gathered.
A comprehensive study might begin with considering maternal sugar ingestion during phases of pregnancy, then follow children from toddler times on.

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