WHO Cares about How Much Sugar You Eat on Halloween?

It’s almost Halloween, so there’s lots to do. If you haven’t picked out your costume, get ideas from the National Retail Federation’s list of the most popular costumes for 2014. Last-minute candy shopping? Check out kidzworld.com’s list of the top 10 candies for Halloween. And of course, you have to plan your daily candy consumption to match the limits on free sugar recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this year.

Mixed candy

What’s that you say? You didn’t plan your candy consumption yet? Well, the guideline says that no more than 10% of your calories should come from free sugars and that you can achieve increased health benefits by keeping the number below 5%. If you’re a good nutrition tracker, that should be no problem for you. For those of you looking for more general suggestions, we’re going to make a scatterplot in Minitab that should provide a helpful reference.

We like to show some fairly nifty graph features on the Minitab blog. For example, Carly Barry’s shown you how to make your graphs more manageable with paneling, Jim Frost’s shown you how to adjust your scales for travel bumps, and Eston Martz adjusted contour plots while looking at data about hyena skulls. This time though, we’re going to see how our statistical software makes it easy to clarify a graph by taking something away.

The USDA last published their dietary guidelines in 2010. Appendix 6 contains calorie estimates based on age, gender and activity level, rounded to the nearest 200 calories. Multiply those levels by 0.05 to  get an estimate of your recommended sugar limit in calories. To change that into grams that you can find on candy labels, we’ll assume that sugar has 4 calories per gram.

Now, if we create the default graph in Minitab we get something a bit like this. Note the symbols crammed together along each line:

Crowded symbols make the graph less clear.

Let’s be honest, pushing all those symbols together to show a line with no variation looks a bit silly. But select those symbols and a clearer graph is only a right-click away:

Right-click the symbols and click Delete to make the graph clearer.

Without the symbols on the graph, the lines and the differences between them are clearer, especially when the lines are closest together during the early phase when people grow rapidly.

Without the symbols, the graph is clearer.

Much has been made of the fact that the 5% WHO guideline is less than the sugar in a can of soda, so Halloween can be a treacherous time for someone who wants to limit their sugar intake. After all, Popular Science reports that the average trick-or-treater begins home over 600 grams. So what do you do if your ghost or goblin brings home more candy than you want? Natalie Silverstein offers some suggestions about how to make your candy do some good for others.


The image of mixed candy is by Steven Depolo and appears under this Creative Commons license.

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