Monday, October 5, 2009

Candy Plus Kids Equals Violent Adults? The Faulty Math

A recent report from the British Journal of Psychiatry says parents who use sweets as a bartering tool with their children may prevent them from learning patience, which could lead to violence and delinquency. The study, led by Simon Moore, a senior lecturer in Violence and Society Research at Cardiff University in the U.K, followed and analyzed 17,500 children born in 1970. They discovered that 69% of participants who were violent had eaten sweets nearly every day during their childhood.

I have problems with studies such as this, because they seem to compartmentalize diet and behavior and then use one of the components on which to hang their findings.

Here are some questions that I have for those who conducted the study:

How many of those same people drank milk as a child? If they all did, could one say that drinking milk as a child makes some of them violent?
What was their overall diet like? Could something else in their diet have contributed to violent behaviors?
How many of these people had divorced parents? What happens if that same 69% were children of divorce parents, could one say that the divorce led the children to violence?
How many grew up in middle class households?
How many of them watched cartoons?
How many of them went to school?
How many of these people were spanked as a child?
How man of them had parents that were college educated? Or had parents who both worked?
How many of them were not the only child?
How many of them ate sugar free foods rather than those made with real sugar?
How many watched sports on television?
How many got toys as Christmas gifts?
How many of them are brunettes?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. When researchers take out only one piece of what is likely a complex set of events or activities and says that one thing is the cause of another, it seems to me that they are making the data fit their desired results. When the matter turns to behavioral issues, things can get dicey. It seems easy to blame one segment of a person’s life for his/her later bad behavior, but to do so may take away that person’s own responsibility for their own choices. A person’s behavior as an adult is likely the sum of many parts. Sure, there may be a few key elements of that person’s childhood that may shape what direction their adult life may take, but using sweets as a bartering tool seems to be one of those things that would be low on the list.

Sugar is not the villain, and neither are parents. As children grow up, they are influenced by many events and make many choices that set the tone for what kind of adults they will be. A person’s behavior is often the sum of many things, and as long as people have a freedom on choice, I’m not sure science will ever find the perfect equation to explain human behavior.

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