Tuesday, 25 October 2011

An ASBO for fizzy pop?

For my non-UK audience, ASBO refers to an anti-social behaviour order normally handed down by the powers that be to errant children and adults for a variety of delinquent behaviours. Whilst the above link to the Wikipedia entry for ASBOs lists what commonly comes under the heading of 'delinquent behaviour', there have been occasions reported on where ASBOs have been used for 'other reasons' like in this particular story.

A recent study by Sara Solnick & David Hemenway* suggests that non-human things might also qualify for an ASBO based on their potential association with the behaviour of our youth. The authors suggested that there may be a dose-dependent relationship between non-diet fizzy drink consumption and aggression and violence amongst 14-18 year olds schooling in Boston, USA.

The methods and findings:

  • Based on the responses of nearly 1900 young people to a questionnaire on consumption of non-diet carbonated soft drinks over a week, respondents were put into a low consumption category (4 or less 12 fluid ounce cans per week) or a high consumption category (5 or more).
  • Participants were then asked about their behaviour regarding aggression and violence towards family, friends, etc and whether they had carried a knife or a gun during the past year.
  • Controlling for various other factors such as age, gender, sleep and alcohol consumption, high consumption of fizzy drinks was associated with more reported aggressive and violent behaviours. The increase was equivalent to what is normally seen when alcohol and tobacco are looked at in relation to anti-social behaviours.

Whilst being a study of association and carrying various potential forms of bias attached to things like retrospective self-reporting with no physiological measures to speak of, the suggestion from this paper (if true) has widespread implications. The prize for best headline on this story must go to the Yorkshire Post who report that 'teenagers more likely to pop on fizzy drink diet' (sigh). Not surprisingly various experts have pointed out that the causes of aggression and violence are likely to be multiple and triggered by lots of different factors, including social factors, and that too literal interpretation of these results is likely to simplify what is a very complicated issue.

Putting aside the multitude of variables potentially involved for one moment, I find myself drawn to the questions of why the authors got the results they did. Is it because those who drink lots and lots of fizzy pop are inherently more likely to be aggressive and violent, or is there some ingredient/s in these drinks which might, in certain amounts and in certain cases, exert some biological effect involved in the presentation of anti-social behaviours? Sugar, caffeine and other ingredients fall under suspicion although proving causation is entirely a different matter. Dr Emily Deans posted an entry on diet and violence earlier this year which alongside the 'Twinkie Defence' might provide some insight into the biological mechanisms (whether direct or secondary knock-on effects on other nutrients for example). Indeed without trying to medicalise or stigmatise any group, one has to wonder whether the results from a few years back on food additives and hyperactivity might also provide some clues to further study.

For now this research, whilst preliminary and in need of substantial replication, perhaps points to another reason, outside of oral hygiene, why 'moderation' should be a word coming back into fashion when it comes to our fizzy pop-filled culture.

* Solnick S & Hemenway D. The ‘Twinkie Defense’: the relationship between carbonated non-diet soft drinks and violence perpetration among Boston high school students. Inj Prev. October 2011.