How sweet it is: A new study published in the journal Food & Nutrition Research demonstrates that kids who eat candy tend to weigh less than kids who don’t. How can this be? On the surface, it appears to all come down to exercise: Candy-consuming children interviewed for this study tended to be thinner, so they must be moving their bodies more to make up for the additional calories they take in. (Cue the “calories in = calories out” theme song.)
The truth is far more nuanced. We wondered where Louisiana State University scientists found their “control” group of non-candy-eating children, but it turns out there weren’t any. Researchers asked kids if they had eaten any chocolate or other candy in the past 24 hours. Those who replied in the affirmative were more likely to be at a healthy weight, but no one followed up to see if those kids ate more candy than their overweight peers over a longer period of time.
For what it’s worth, though, this study is consistent with similar research (published three months ago) which showed no connection between adult candy consumption and obesity or other health risks. In both studies, Body Mass Index numbers were lower among people who recalled eating candy during the previous 24-hour period. The same was true for cardiovascular disease risk factors like C-reactive protein levels, blood pressure, and blood levels of cholesterol indicators.
As we would expect, this latest study’s lead author is going out of her way to avoid suggesting that we all raid the M&M bowl once an hour. “The results of this study should not be construed as a hall-pass to overindulge,” she said. “Candy should not replace nutrient-dense foods in the diet; it is a special treat and should be enjoyed in moderation.”
We would go even further. This study also doesn’t suggest that you can completely offset rock-candy binges with a brisk jog. Human nutrition, of course, is far more complicated than that. And that’s a big problem for researchers who conduct studies like these. By its very nature, this kind of work is remarkably vague and imprecise.
Yet the primary science on the causes of obesity consists of little else. A relative handful of Ph.D.s has the media (and some professional medical organizations) convinced that thousands of people can reliably remember whether or not they popped a Tic-Tac yesterday, and what they had for breakfast last Tuesday.
Worse yet, they seem to think the results of such surveys hold deep meaning for everyone who could stand to lose a few pounds.
We’re taking a more common-sense approach: Don’t swear off the Snickers. Don’t stop taking the stairs. Don’t stress too much about that second helping. Don’t succumb to that voice in your head that says, “You can skip the gym today.”
And don’t base health pronouncements (or worse yet, health policy) on the assumption that a kid who ate a chocolate bar yesterday will eat another one today.