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Does Soda Cause Violence?

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Some people seem to think so and researchers are finding that teens who drink more soda get into more fights and act more aggressively, that excess sugar may affect the brain and lead to violent acts, and that soda drinking may be a marker for poor nutrition, which can influence mood and behavior.

Discovery News reports:

Teenagers who drink lots of soft drinks get into more fights and carry more weapons than their peers who drink less, found a new study.

And while the study couldn’t determine whether soft drinks actually cause violence, the findings add to a growing — yet still controversial — body of research on the effects of nutrition on behavior.

“We were surprised at how large the effect was,” said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center in Boston.

“It was maintained even when we controlled for alcohol and tobacco and family stuff like eating dinners together,” he said. “There was a very strong, stable relationship between more soft drinks that people said they drank and more fights with things like pushing and shoving.”

There has long been interest in how diet affects behavior, not just among scientists, but also among legal experts. In a notorious 1979 San Francisco murder trial, lawyers blamed the killer’s actions on his recent switch from a health-food diet to one filled with Coca-Cola and other junk food.

Their argument worked. Instead of a homicide ruling, the defendant was convicted of a lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter. The legal strategy became known as the “Twinkie Defense,” and the precedent raised a number of questions that persist, despite years of research on the subject.

A 2006 study in Norway found that teens who drank lots of soft drinks suffered from worse mental health compared to those who drank fewer. And a study published earlier this year found higher levels of antisocial behavior in American college students who drank the most soda.

For the latest study, Hemenway and colleague Sara Solnick surveyed more than 1,800 students in Boston public schools. During 40-minute sessions that covered a range of topics, kids answered questions about how much non-diet soda they had gulped down in the past seven days, whether they had been violent towards others, and if they had carried around a knife or gun in the previous year.

Nearly 30 percent of respondents reported consuming more than five cans of soda each week, the researchers reported in Injury Prevention. Heavy soda drinkers didn’t seem to get less sleep than anyone else, but they were more likely to have indulged in alcohol and tobacco over the previous month.

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