Research Team Almost Kinda Sorta Claims Soda Might Make Children Aggressive Maybe
August 21, 2013

Research Team Almost Kinda Sorta Claims Soda Might Make Children Aggressive Maybe

It must be tough to be a researcher.

A team of them from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, the University of Vermont, and Harvard School of Public Health have released the results of one of their latest studies and have announced…essentially nothing.

It’s common knowledge, I’m sure you’ll agree, that Americans love their soda. We love it (quite literally) to a fault. We’ve gotten huge on it, fat on it, and many can’t get up and moving in the morning without it. The researchers in question say they’ve possibly, maybe, but not really, discovered an alleged link between a child’s soda intake and their aggressive behavior.

Think I’m being harsh?

Then how about the writers at Reuters who, in their second and third lines, immediately begin backpedaling from their headline?

“The study’s lead author cautioned, however, that the increase may not be noticeable for individual children and the researchers can’t prove soda caused the bad behaviors,” reads the Reuters report before quoting the study’s lead author as saying the research is “not quite clinically significant.”

Third sentence. Look it up.

You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone to promote the health benefits of soda, and that’s assuming there are any. As it turns out, carbonated and caffeinated corn syrup doesn’t offer much in the way of healthful nutrition. It does, however, often come with zero calories.

I still can’t figure that one out.

Making the claim, then, that soda has negative effects, particularly on children, isn’t a difficult chore. The researchers say they’ve seen reports on the effects of soda on adolescents, but wanted some tangible evidence of the harmful effects on younger children, say age five.

Ok, so good so far. It’s another example of what we know versus what we know, but whatever. If your job is to research, then by all means, research away.

To source the study, the team borrowed some information from another ongoing and very large survey that has been following around mothers and their children since around 1998. Every so often surveyors with clipboards (I assume) come knocking on these single mothers’ doors and asking them about their child’s health, behavior, dietary habits and more.

But who are these mothers?

There’re about 3,000 of them from 20 large US cities, the majority of which are single mothers of African American or Latino descent. It’s an important fact we’ll come back to later.

The larger study (not the small one) also defines “aggressive behavior” as the child destroying their own possessions or the possessions of others. Very angry children, essentially.

This aggression is then listed on a scale of 0 to 100.  On average the kids surveyed in this study scored a middle of the road 50, a point I’d personally like researched. Why are kids so angry? They’re just kids!

Moving on, the study also found that 43 percent of the kids in the study had one serving of soda a day, while only four had more than four servings a day.

Here’s the data that I assume kept the researchers going: The average aggressive rating of children, aged five, who drank a soda a day was 56. This number raised one point with every additional soda they enjoyed, so a kid who drank two sodas had an aggression rating of 57, three equated to 58, and so on.

A few things to remember:

First, this study covers just one sliver of the American population, and a population that has many times before been shown to have unhealthy eating habits and greater risk of obesity.

Second, the definition of “aggressive” is so shaky. As a former hyperactive child, I can tell you that destroying your possessions or the possessions of others may be perceived as aggression, but it’s really all in the name of fun. After you get hopped up on caffeine and sugar, things just tend to break. It’s a really weird phenomenon.

Can we really call it aggressive behavior if Timmy breaks his Transformer toy because he wanted to see if it really could fly when launched from the roof?

In conclusion, this study tells us one thing:

When specific data is cherry picked in order to find a specific result, you’ll probably get the results you want….even if you have to back them up with a disclaimer.

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