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Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Soft Drinks, Violence, and Teens

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New study suggests there’s truth to the “Twinkie defense”

You’ve probably heard of the “Twinkie defense,” a term coined in 1979 to explain a murder defendant’s mental state. As the story goes, the guilty party had suddenly veered away from a healthy lifestyle into one of fast food and soft drinks. Using the argument that his diet had caused him to experience dramatic mood swings, the defense attorneys were able to convince the jury to convict their client of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder.

Although the “Twinkie defense” has become a catchphrase, it has never really affected public health policy, and has been considered something of a joke, rather than a real issue. A recent study from Dr. Sara Solnick and Dr. David Hemenway, published in the October 24, 2011 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Injury Prevention, sheds new light on the effects that our diet may have on our mental health.

In their study, Solnick and Hemenway evaluated over 1600 Boston high schoolers. The students were questioned on their non-diet soda consumption over the past seven days, and were also asked whether they had recently carried weapons or been involved in acts of violence.

Controlling for a number of other factors (including sleep, alcohol, tobacco, sex, age, weight, and ethnicity), the researchers found a powerful correlation between soft drink use and violence. Levels of violence were surprisingly high in all of the kids studied. Of those who drank up to one soda per week, nearly one in four had carried a weapon in the past year and 15 percent reported violence in a dating relationship in the past month. However, of those who drank 14 or more cans of soda weekly, a shocking 43 percent reported carrying a weapon, and 27 percent had engaged in violence in a dating relationship.

Was it the sugary soft drinks that lead to a doubling of violent behavior, or was there something else driving these findings? It’s impossible to be certain, but there is no doubt that soft drinks serve no useful purpose for growing children, or indeed, for any of us. Juice drinks are not much better. Although they are not caffeinated, they are usually over sweetened with the same high-fructose corn syrup found in soft drinks. For kids and teens, as well as for adults, milk and water are much healthier and safer options.

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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