Soft drinks linked to violent tendencies in teens

November 12, 2012

Soft drinks linked to violent tendencies in teens

A study has found an association between soda drinking teenagers and a tendency to violence although the study authors concede that cause and effect is yet to be proved. A study involving 1,900 high school students in Boston and published in the online version of the journal Injury Preventionhas shown an association between violent behavior and teenagers who drink a lot of carbonated drinks containing caffeine and sugar. However the study stops short of finding this to be the cause of the violent behavior. Other factors such as poor parenting or an already present tendency to violence in the teenager may also contribute. The co author Sara Solnick is an associate professor of economics at the University of Vermont in Burlington and she accepts that cause and effect has not been proven. She also says, “Soda (could be) a red flag that is indicating something else is wrong”. The 1,900 students were asked how many sugar based (non diet) drinks they had consumed in the previous week. They were also asked if they had been violent to other students or family members in the previous week, and if they carried a weapon. The researchers found that almost a half (43%) of the students who consumed in excess of 13 cans of drink a week said that they carried a weapon at some point. Whereas only 23% or less than a quarter of those who drank less than one can of soda weekly admitted to carrying a weapon at some point. Of the students who drank between two and four cans a week, about one third (33%) of them said that they had carried a knife or gun at some point. If they drank between 5 and 7 cans per week then that number rose to 38%. Researchers also saw an association between the number of cans drank and the amount of violence that person admitted to. Only 15% of those drinking less than one can per week admitted to being violent to a girlfriend or boyfriend yet 27% of those who drank 14 or more cans said that they had been violent to their partner. They had also been violent to their peers, with 59% admitting it, compared to 35% of those who only drank the one can a week.

This relationship continued for families too. With 45% of those drinking 14 or more cans admitting to being violent to brothers and sisters. That figure was 25% for those who consumed one can or less per week.

The researchers took into account some external factors such as tobacco, alcohol use, race and gender. However other factors which are known to affect an individual’s likelihood of being violent could not be factored in. These include whether someone is poor and the standard of parenting. It was found that the students saying that they drank lots of soda were also more inclined to use alcohol and tobacco.

The high prevalence of soda drinking was highlighted when it was seen that 30% of the 9th grade to 12th grade students said that they consumed more than 5 cans every week.

The researchers do not rule out that the soda may be the problem. They say that students who consume too much soda neglect healthier foods which contain micronutrients which the body requires to stay healthy and balanced. Soda drinking could also mask low blood sugar symptoms which can manifest themselves as violent behavior or irritability. Caffeine and sugar have been studied before and there is a suggestion that they can influence behavior. However some experts maintain that the findings are inconclusive.

Alan Manevitz is a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and he reports that, “There’s no definitive explanation that this explains how or if this might affect behavior”.

Solnick is also open to the thought that, “soda could be showing that this person is not having a healthy diet or they don’t have a great upbringing. Those things are connected to violence”.

The study cites the criminal case known as the “Twinkie Defense” which took place in 1979. The defendant Dan White was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter of Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco city district supervisor Harvey Milk instead of homicide. The defense argued that White did not commit a premeditated act and he was hyped up on junk food and Coca-Cola.

In the intervening years further studies have taken place to investigate the effects of sugary and caffeinated drinks. Today most experts would agree that soda definitely falls into the ‘unhealthy food’ bracket. Additionally some studies have found that students who drank lots of soda began to develop antisocial tendencies and a Norwegian study identified that the state of mental health declined in young people who drank to much sugary drinks.

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