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Sugar and Violence

Sugar and Violence

Harvard carried the nickname the “Kremlin on the Charles” in my college days, and its ivy halls have produced another radical idea: that student violence and heavy consumption of nondiet soft drinks go together. By accident, a survey at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered correlations between a high school student’s drinking five or more cans of sugared (usually with  high-fructose corn syrup rather than table sugar) soft drinks a week and violent behavior towards his peers, family members and dates. The correlation between drinking sugar and violence was “on par,” and sometimes stronger than, the link between alcohol and violence. The researchers got similar results in later surveys designed to test their initial results, surveys involving thousands of kids of different ages and circumstances. Earlier studies have linked soda consumption with depression and suicidal behavior, but Harvard’s is the first dealing with violence. As the lead researcher said, “When you think about the causes of violence, soft drinks are not on the map of variables you tend to look at.”

Our 8/13/12 post “Advertising and Obesity” discussed the causal link between high fructose corn syrup soft drinks and obesity. It’s less settled that drinking lots of sugared drinks actually cause violence; good scientists are careful to look for other factors, such as generally poor parenting which includes but is not limited to giving kids access to lots of sugar, that might explain correlations between sugar and violence. Nonetheless, the overall evidence is strong that high sugar intake has become another hazard of being an adolescent who listens to soft drink advertising and conforms to peer group habits.

Junk calories lead to excess consumption in many ways: resources used to persuade people to eat or drink what’s not healthy, energy used to produce, transport and deliver the junk food, and the health costs related to consuming too much sugar.  Now we have some evidence that heavy doses of sugar can lead young people to hurt others, instead of just hurting themselves.

Image by Diego Grez [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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