Is Sugar the Gateway to Violence?

Meghan Holohan

After assassinating San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, Dan White claimed his poor diet—including sugary foods and sodas—increased his depression and ultimately caused him to become homicidal. This strategy, dubbed The Twinkie Defense, convinced the jury to convict White of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder (ironically Mr. White ate Twinkies in court, though some testified he enjoyed Ho-Hos and Ding Dongs).

Many consider The Twinkie Defense as much of a joke today as it was in 1979. But a recent study by British researchers suggests that children who eat chocolate or sweets daily are more likely to turn into violent adults.

The researchers from Cardiff University looked at data from the 1970s British Cohort Survey. This longitudinal study followed 17,500 children, and the researchers looked at information about the participants at age 5, 10 and 34. Simon Moore and his colleagues discovered that 69 percent of people who were violent at 34 ate sugary treats almost daily when they were 10.

The researchers have a more practical perspective than the experts who pioneered The Twinkie Defense. "Our favoured explanation is that giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want. Not being able to defer gratification may push them towards more impulsive behaviour, which is strongly associated with delinquency," Moore says.