Children who eat candy and chocolate every day are more likely to be violent when they grow up because the instant gratification can nurture impulsive behavior, according to a U.K. study published Thursday.
Researchers from Cardiff University found that 10-year-olds who got daily treats were more likely to have been convicted for violence by age 34, according to a study that will appear in the October issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.
The study is the first to examine the effects of childhood diet on adult violence, according to an e-mailed press release from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Others have established a link between food additives and hyperactive behavior.
“Persistently giving confectionary to children may teach them to be impulsive and to try and get what they want by using aggression,” Simon Moore, the study’s lead researcher, said in a telephone interview yesterday. Moore said he and his colleague are “trying to understand the causes of problem behavior.”
Almost 17,500 participants, found through the 1970 British Cohort Study, took part in the research. Since 1970, there were several data collections, designed to monitor the respondents’ health, education, social and economic circumstances alongside sweets consumption. The data collection took place when the participants were aged 5, 10, 26, 30, 34 and 42.
Other variables were taken into account and didn’t change the results of the study, the researchers said. They include a child’s behavior at home at age 5 as well as maternal circumstances; aggression and impulsivity at age 10, assessed by a child’s class teacher; and mental ability at age 5, derived from figure drawing and vocabulary tests.
Sixty-nine percent of the participants who were violent by the age of 34 had eaten sweets and chocolates almost every day during childhood, compared with 42 percent who showed no aggressive behavior, the study found. The association was consistent even after ecological, childhood and other control variables were included, according to the researchers.
“Our favored explanation is that giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want,” Moore said in a statement. “Not being able to defer gratification may push them toward more impulsive behavior, which is strongly associated with delinquency.”
The link between sweets consumption and violence is “both novel and robust” and “needs further attention,” Moore and other researchers wrote. “Targeting resources at improving children’s diet may improve health and reduce aggression.”