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article imageOp-Ed: Weak study gives thumbs up to candy as health food

By Elizabeth Cunningham Perkins     Jul 1, 2011 in Health
According to a study funded by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the National Confectioners Association, children and adolescents who eat candy are at lower risk of chronic disease than abstainers, and less likely to be overweight or obese.
But Alison Bodor, a National Confectioners Association official and Carol O'Neil of the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, the lead author of the new study, issued a cautionary written statement about the findings that were published recently in Food and Nutrition Research, a peer-reviewed publication.
Recommending a balanced approach, O'Neil stated commonsensibly, "Candy should not replace nutrient-dense foods in the diet; it is a special treat and should be enjoyed in moderation."
Further down the page, Bodor added wise-sagely, "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."
The proliferation of questioning and incredulous news stories about this study (and an earlier, largely ignored until now, companion study about adults and candy consumption, also led by O'Neil), showed how eagerly journalists swallowed up -- or gobbled down whole -- that is, without much chewing, O'Neil's and Bodor's press release that highlighted the following encouraging results:
An inflammation marker and chronic disease risk indicator known as C-reactive protein (CRP) was lower in sugar-candy eaters.
But no further associations between candy eating and cardiovascular risk were found, including blood pressure and blood lipids (a cholesterol indicator).
Candy eaters had lower scores on Waist Circumference and Body Mass Index (BMI), two of the most commonly used obesity measuring systems.
There was no difference in diet quality between candy-eaters and abstainers, using the USDA's 2005 Healthy Eating Index as a standard -- because, actually, all the test subjects' diets were rated "very poor" by the researchers.
So, isn't this wonderful news? Is this the long-craved, evidenced-based, scientific proof that candy can be part of a healthy diet?
Of course, worrying over candy-eating kids is no fun:
They might be more likely to grow up to be criminals, as TIME reported in September 2009, or be less likely to grow up to be CEOs, as BusinessInsider reported in May 2011.
Dietitians and nutritionists have agreed that only comprehensive nutrition can grow healthy, academically prepared children, ScienceDaily reported in November 2010. So, candy and junk food are now gradually being eliminated from school lunch programs, the NY Times reported in February 2010.
But this new study shows candy isn't just junk food anymore -- right?
No, this study fails to demonstrate much, if anything, scientifically speaking, beyond the age-old, common sense advice parents have given often, from ancient ages to the present day: practice moderation, my child.
This reporter and a writer for The Center for Consumer Freedom, and probably many others, continued reading into the abstract of O'Neil's published paper and noticed research design flaws that weaken these new findings as scientific evidence:
The researchers' conclusions were based on statistical analysis of self-reported "twenty-four hour dietary recalls" by 11,182 U.S. children (ages 2 to 13) and adolescents (ages 14 to 18), surveyed between 1999 and 2004.
There was no control group -- or any way to verify the data.
So, in this writer's opinion, this study and its findings are, ironically, really light-weight.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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