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SHEU Views the News July Sweets


SHEU Views the News - July Sweets

From the Schools and Students Health Education Unit (SHEU)

Reporting of children's sweet consumption and health risks

A recently reported research study assessed the diet of U.S. children and adolescents to determine the effects of sweet (candy) consumption and risk factors for heart disease. The study involved more than 11,000 2-18 year olds and used a variety of methods to assess dietary intake over a 24 hour period. The conclusion stated: "This study showed that approximately one-third of children and adolescents consumed candy (sweets) the day of the recall and that candy consumption was associated with higher intakes of energy and added sugars; chocolate candy consumption was also associated with higher total and SFA (saturated fatty acids) intake. Total, chocolate, and sugar candy consumption was not associated with weight/adiposity variables and candy consumers were less likely to be overweight or obese than non-candy consumers. Only chocolate candy consumers had a lower diet quality than non-consumers, but all individuals had poor diet quality regardless of whether they consumed candy. Current levels of candy consumption were not associated with adverse health parameters in children or adolescents."

The research project was partially supported by the National Confectioners' Association (NCA) and their spokesperson Alison Bodor, senior vice president of public policy and advocacy at NCA, was reported as saying, "Candy is a fun part of children’s lives ­ as a treat, in celebrations and for holidays. It’s not intended to replace nutrient-dense foods in the diet, but it certainly can provide moments of happiness within the context of a healthy lifestyle."

Following publication of the research there was particular interest in certain aspects of the study:
"Scientists say kids eating candy are less at risk to become overweight or obese."
... and ...
"Sweets are good for children and may stop them from getting fat in later life"
One of the comments in the Daily Mail article was reported to have come from Southampton-based dietitian Priya Tew. "It could be that children get used to treats but learn to have smaller portions and not have them every day," she said, adding: ‘I’d be interested to see how much exercise the children in the study carried out because it might be that the children who eat the most sweets run around the most."

NHS Choices provided a critique of the Daily Mail story and the original research study - "Are sweets 'good for kids'?"
The critique analysed the research commenting that: "The study has numerous limitations which seriously limit the conclusions that can be drawn," and, "... no assumptions should be made about the longer-term cardiovascular health or body weight of children who eat confectionery. It should not be concluded that children and adolescents who eat sweets or chocolate will be at lower risk of getting fat in later life or at lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The numerous health benefits of a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise are well established."

Despite the many limitations of the study design, as pointed out by the original researchers, the following comments caught our eye: "There were no differences in children regarding the likelihood to have a high quality diet, defined by the Healthy Eating Index - 2005 (80th percentile or better) ... among all three groups of candy consumers and non-consumers", and, "... all individuals had poor diet quality regardless of whether they consumed candy", and, "Overall, diet quality in this study was very poor in all groups, whether or not candy was consumed."

In this study, of over 11,000 young people in the U.S. who participated in the 1999­-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey should we be surprised that all of them were reported to have very poor diet quality or have we missed the point and got lost in the detail?

What do you think?

To comment on the above study please contact David McGeorge

The Schools and Students Health Education Unit (SHEU) data show a declining trend of young people who, between 1987 - 2010, reported that they ate sweets/chocolates/ biscuits "on most days". Males, aged between 14-15 years, report the highest levels of sweet consumption and females from the 10-11 and 12-13 year old age group report the lowest sweet consumption.

In 1977, SHEU began surveys with young people and we remain the specialist provider of pupil and student health related behaviour surveys