Kids who eat candy not as heavy as kids who don't, study says

6/30/2011 5:52:00 AM

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Kids who snack on Snickers bars and Twizzlers weigh less and are less likely to be overweight than their counterparts who avoid candy, a new U.S. study says.

Children and teens who indulged their sweet tooths were 22 per cent less likely to be overweight and 28 per cent less likely to be obese, according to researchers in Louisiana.

Carol O'Neil, registered dietitian and professor at Louisiana State University's Agricultural Center, had tracked the eating habits of youngsters age two to 17 between 1999 and 2004.

But in no way, O'Neil said, do her results tell parents it's OK to let their kids eat Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for dinner. Just because children who eat candy don't pull down the scale as much as kids who don't doesn't mean they have healthy diets.

"Children need to eat better than they are eating now," said O'Neil, calling the diets of children in her survey "abysmal," especially kids who snacked on chocolate.

"Candy can certainly be used as some sort of celebratory treat or an occasional treat," she said, as it's tied to many holidays. "But it's not a hall pass to eat what you want."

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Confectioners Association, also found that fewer kids are eating candy than before, dropping to 71 per cent in 1994 from 94 per cent in 1973. And those are who still eat it, are eating less of it.

O'Neil suggests kids may have discovered other foods they like, as more foods become available over time, such as dill-pickle-flavoured potato chips.

The study focused on a cross-section of children's candy-eating habits, and did not examine what, if not candy, makes kids gain weight. O'Neil said the factors contributing to childhood obesity are complex and plentiful, with risk factors largely pointing to a lack of physical activity.

As in the U.S., childhood obesity rates in Canada are staggering. The prevalence of children aged 14 and younger who are obese or overweight has doubled, from 13 per cent in 1977-78 to 26 per cent in 2006, Statistics Canada reported.

"Children need to eat healthy foods, nutrient-dense foods. They need to have fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy," O'Neil said. "And foods like candy should be occasional foods, celebratory foods and eaten in moderation."

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