Do carbonated soft drinks make teens more violent?

Just one can of soda a day is linked to more aggressive behavior by teenagers, claim researchers.


A new study found youngsters were significantly more likely to be violent and carry weapons if they regularly consumed fizzy soft drinks.

The study showed those having more than five cans of non-diet carbonated drinks a week were more likely to get involved in violent assaults.

The US researchers are uncertain if the link is causal, but have not ruled this out.

It is possible that unknown factors causing aggression in youngsters also influence their dietary habits – which is why they opt for fizzy drinks – but previous research suggests poor nutrition may be a cause of antisocial behavior.

The latest findings, reported online in the journal Injury Prevention (must credit), come from a survey of 1,878 teenagers aged 14 to 18 from 22 state schools in Boston.

They were asked how many cans of non-diet fizzy soft drinks they had consumed over the past week.

Up to four cans was considered ‘low’, and five or more was classified as ‘high’.

Just under one in three pupils fell into the ‘high’ category, some drinking more than two or three cans a day.

The scientists then investigated any potential links to violent behavior.

Youngsters were asked if they had been violent towards their peers, a brother or sister, or a partner, and whether they had carried a gun or knife in the past year.

Overall, frequent soft drink consumption was associated with a 9 per cent to 15 per cent increased likelihood of engaging in aggressive behavior.

Violence and weapon-carrying was in any event common among the teenagers, who largely represented ethnic minorities from poor backgrounds. Of the group, 50 per cent were black or multi-racial, 33 per cent Hispanic, 9 per cent white and 8 per cent Asian.

However, rates of violent behaviour increased in a ‘dose response’ as students consumed more fizzy drinks, the researchers found.

Just over 23 per cent of teenagers drinking one or no cans a week had carried a gun or knife, rising to just under 43 per cent of those drinking 14 or more cans.

For the same increase in fizzy drink consumption, the proportion of those who had shown violence to a dating partner rose from 15 per cent to 27 per cent.

Rates of violence towards peers rose from 35 per cent to more than 58 per cent, and towards siblings from 25 per cent to more than 43 per cent.

The researchers, led by Dr Sara Solnick from the University of Vermont, said ‘There was a significant and strong association between soft drinks and violence.

‘There may be a direct cause-and-effect relationship, perhaps due to the sugar or caffeine content of soft drinks, or there may be other factors, unaccounted for in our analyses, that cause both high soft drink consumption and aggression.’

Previous research in the UK and the Netherlands found youngsters living on junk food were more likely to break the law, but giving vitamin and mineral supplements to convicted prisoners could cut violence in jails by up to 47 per cent.

It is thought poor nutrition could be a trigger for antisocial behaviour, probably because it leads to low levels of brain chemicals affecting mood and increasing aggression.

British expert Prof Peter Kinderman, a clinical psychologist at the University of Liverpool, criticised the study, saying there were many influences on the teenagers’ behavior.

He said ‘The causes of violence in young people are complicated and this work is presenting an overly simplistic interpretation of the role of ‘soft’ drinks.

There are a large number of known risk factors that would contribute to violent behaviour that have nothing to do with the consumption of these drinks.

‘We know, in many areas of human behaviour that correlation does not imply causation. We also know that poor diet is associated with a range of negative health and social outcomes. This study is unsurprising.

‘But, more importantly, it fails to address ‘third-variable’ issues that could explain the findings – kids exposed to different social, parental or educational backgrounds might therefore have different diets and different attitudes to aggression, without any direct causal link.’

Dr Seena Fazel, senior lecturer at Oxford University of Oxford, said ‘A trial of an intervention to reduce high soft drink consumption may be worth considering in high risk populations, and may lead to broader health benefits beyond reducing aggression.’

Photo credit: Sydney Morning Herald

Via Daily Mail