A British study found a link between eating candy and violence in adulthood. ((Associated Press/Canadian Press))

Children who eat too much candy may be more likely to be arrested for violent behaviour as adults, a British study suggests.

The research involved 17,000 children born in 1970 who were studied for four decades.

The research found 69 per cent of people with a violent record by age 34 had "scoffed confectionery" every day when they were 10 years old. Of those who didn't have any violent clashes, 42 per cent ate sweets daily.

The study, the first to look at adult violence in relation to childhood diet, was published in the October issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, and paid for by Britain's Economic and Social Research Council.

However, the National Health Service, Britain's public health administrator, said on its website there are other possible explanations for this link, including the fact that difficult children might be given more sweets.

The NHS also noted that there was a high proportion of people who ate sweets every day in both the violent and non-violent groups, and it appears less than 0.5% of children in this study became violent offenders.

Bribing with sweets could harm kids: researcher

The researchers themseves said the results were interesting, but that more studies were needed to confirm the link.

"It's not that the sweets themselves are bad; it's more about interpreting how kids make decisions," said the University of Cardiff's Simon Moore, one of the paper's authors.

Moore said parents who consistently bribe their children into good behaviour with candies and chocolates could be doing harm. That might prevent children from learning how to defer gratification, leading to impulsive behaviour and violence.

Even after Moore and colleagues controlled for other variables like different parenting skills and varying social and economic backgrounds, they found a significant link between childhood consumption of sweets and violent behaviour in adulthood.

Previous studies have found better nutrition leads to better behaviour, in both children and adults.

Moore said his results were not strong enough to recommend parents stop giving their children candies and chocolates.

"This is an incredibly complex area," he said. "It's not fair to blame it on the candy."

With files from The Associated Press