Is Candy So Scary?

Oct 29, 2010

By Tom Ryan

A New York Times article explores whether candy isn’t as bad
for humans — at least comparatively — as generally assumed. Like many
other foods, the problem is over-indulgence, the article states, as the ingredients
in candy are not any worse — and sometimes better — than other

The article profiled Samira Kawash, a former Rutgers professor who runs
the Candy Professor blog. Her inspiration to start the blog came five years
ago when she gave her then three-year old daughter jelly beans instead of sugar-saturated
juice boxes and cookies for a playtime visit at the home of a new friend. She
found the friend had never been allowed by her parents to eat candy, with the
father comparing it to crack cocaine.

Ms. Kawash doesn’t deny candy’s links
to tooth decay and obesity issues. But she wonders why candy seems to have
a worse reputation than many other items in supermarket aisles posing similar
dangers. At the extreme, she notes that sugar-packed chocolate chip energy
bars and Gatorade are regularly marketed for health reasons, although she contends
a serving of Gatorade contains about the same sugar content as a dozen pieces
of candy corn.

“At least candy is honest about what it is,” she said. “It
has always been a processed food, eaten for pleasure, with no particular nutritional

Her blog, according to the Times, in part traces many
of the “candy
alarmists” over the last century warning that candy was “was too
stimulating, too soporific, poisoned, or otherwise hazardous.”

Johnson, a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont who was the lead
author of the American Heart Association’s comprehensive 2009
review of the scientific literature on sugar and cardiovascular health, believes
sweet food like granola bars and fruit juice carry a “health halo” that
candy can’t tap.

“Nutritionally there is little difference between a gummy bear and a
bite of fruit leather,” she argues. She also noted that candy provides
only six percent of the added sugar in the American diet, while sweet drinks
and juice supply 46 percent. “There’s reason to believe that sugar
in liquid form is actually worse than candy, because it fills you up and displaces
healthier food choices,” she said.

Speaking to ReelGirl blog, Brian
Campbell, co-owner of The Candy Store, the popular San Francisco candy store,
said the problem is that people almost always associate candy with excessive
sugar intake although very few candies use high-fructose corn syrup, the controversial sweetener.

“The vast majority of our country’s sugar consumption comes from other
sources, such as sodas,” said Mr. Campbell. “There are other countries,
such as Sweden, that consume far more candy per capita than the U.S. – and
you don’t hear much about the Swedish obesity epidemic.”

Discussion Questions: Why does candy seem to have a worse reputation compared
to other junk foods? Are their ways to at least balance its status against
other foods?

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10 Comments on "Is Candy So Scary?"

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David Biernbaum
10 years 6 months ago

Candy has a worse reputation compared to other junk foods because it’s what children crave and because of its association with sugar, and candy’s affects on dental health.

Kevin Graff
10 years 6 months ago

And in other news from the candy industry, most nutrients are found in the candy wrapper so consumers should eat that too!

It’s good to see someone point out the ridiculous health claims of some energy bars and sports drinks. Not sure how they get away with that. But, it’s a bit of a red herring argument to say that because those energy bars and sports drinks are OK to consume, then candy is too.

Having said that, who can possibly deny themselves the occasional guilty pleasure of their favourite sweet? Life is about balance, right?

Anne Howe
10 years 6 months ago

What ever happened to the old adage our grandmother’s used to preach in the kitchen? Everything in moderation.

Candy is not something I have on hand, nor buy on even a monthly basis. But trust me, I’d much rather enjoy the sugar from a fine chocolate bar than a bottle of Gatorade. Neither candy nor sugary drinks should be “marketed” under health claims, in my humble shopper marketing opinion.

Why can’t we go back to “enjoy in moderation” messaging? Perhaps the American food consumption pattern is too screwed up for that.

Will we ever eat enough vegetables to make a fine chocolate bar actually be a part of a balanced diet? It’s sad to think Americans won’t decide to get close to our grandmother’s ways again.

Steve Montgomery
10 years 6 months ago

Candy has a worst reputation than other items that contain sugar, etc, BECAUSE it is candy. It is what we were all told growing up is bad for us, will rot your teeth, etc. Unfortunately it’s candy’s legacy and one that I think will be hard for the industry to overcome. It is good to know that candy is no worse for us that some other items but I’m not sure that message will remove the sigma candy has with some consumers.

Dan Berthiaume
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 6 months ago

Part of candy’s problem is that it’s so easy to overindulge – people rarely eat a whole box of energy bars or drink a 2-liter soda bottle in one sitting, but will eat a whole box of chocolates, no problem. And the fact that Europeans in general eat more sugary/fattening foods, drink more alcohol and smoke more than Americans yet have nowhere near as many chronic health conditions should be a clue there are other things wrong with our nation’s health (processed foods, no exercise or sleep, chemicals everywhere, high stress, etc.).

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
10 years 6 months ago

Candy has never been more than a “treat”, with generations of information about how unhealthy it can be when overdone. Probably the biggest problem is the lack of satiety described by previous panelists – one can consume a thousand calories or more without feeling “full.” But the real problem, as all have discussed is overindulgence in all of the sweetened sodas, juices, and snacks. Portion control is a tremendous start for improving the reputation of candy!

James Tenser
10 years 6 months ago
The size of the U.S. confectionery industry ($28 billion in retail sales in 2008) is an indication of the popularity of sweets in our culture. But per capita consumption (lbs. per person) seems fairly stable, based on Dept. of Commerce numbers posted on the National Confectioners Association web site. So – no epidemic here. In my view, any parent who equates candy with hard drugs is too tightly wound, and should probably take his or her own advice and lay off the lattes. This conversation would benefit greatly from a key distinction: Candy is not intended to be food. It’s a treat that should be consumed only in small quantities, by adults and children alike. I seriously doubt that candy is a major cause of obesity (although it may be a minor contributor for some individuals). Soft drinks, salty snacks, fast food and excessive portion sizes are much more likely culprits. I say let the kids have a few pieces on Halloween. Set some limits as we did with my kids. We discovered that after… Read more »
Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
10 years 6 months ago

For the foreseeable future, it’s doubtful that candy will shake its tarnished image. But I do commend those trying to repair its image.

That said, what I feel we really need as consumers is nutritional education. No, I’m not talking about the multi-colored nutrition labeling initiatives launched by retailers, nor the various health claims shouted from product packaging. I’m talking about the ABCs of proper nutrition and food ingredients being taught to consumers as part of their public education. If we work to create smart eaters when they’re young (instead of scaring them about certain foods out of ignorance), they’ll be capable of making informed food choices throughout life.

Craig Sundstrom
10 years 6 months ago

Ah, the Times…where would we be without their “explorations” of pseudo issues? Anyway, I don’t agree with the premise that candy has a WORSE reputation than junk foods; on the contrary, the fact that “junk foods” are called just that suggests they have the worse image…and rightly so, since foods are intended to be everyday items, whereas candy is meant to be an occasional treat (whose nutritional content would be largely irrelevant). That some people emulate Augustus Gloop is not the fault of the innocent candy bar.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 6 months ago

Can I assume candy and cookies are the same when it comes to this report? If so, I have found that neither are bad for me as long as chocolate is included. Chocolate chip cookies have proven over the years to be the one craving necessary for me to maintain my overweight status.


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