Eating sweets might actually stop your child from getting fat, researchers say.
According to their study, youngsters who regularly eat chocolate bars and other treats are significantly less likely to be overweight or obese than those who do not.
The effect apparently extends to adolescence, when those who eat sweets are even more likely to be thinner.
The findings appear to contradict the vast bulk of research which indicates that sweets are not only bad for your teeth but bad for your body too.
It could also make the job of parents who try to steer their children away from sugary treats even more difficult.
Researchers at Louisiana State University in the U.S. monitored more than 11,000 children and young people between the ages of two and 18 from 1999 to 2004.
The data showed that children who ate sweets were 22 per cent less likely to be overweight or obese than those who did not.
Among adolescents, even more â€“ 26 per cent â€“ were likely to weigh less than their counterparts who did not eat sweets.
Across all ages there were also lower levels of C-reactive protein in sweet-eating children. High levels of the protein are thought to raise the risk of heart problems and other chronic illnesses.
Explaining the survey results, the researchers said that children who were fed the right portions of sweets from an early age learned the vital skill of â€˜food disciplineâ€™.
They also said those who ate treats just on special occasions were more aware of their eating habits and able to â€˜successfully navigate the calories in, calories out balanceâ€™.
Dr Carol Oâ€™Neil, lead researcher, added: â€˜The study illustrates that children and adolescents who consume candy are less likely to be overweight or obese. However, the results of this study should not be construed as a hall-pass to overindulge.
Candy should not replace nutrient-dense foods in the diet. It is a special treat and should be enjoyed in moderation.â€™
Britain is said to be on the brink of an obesity epidemic with nearly one in ten six-year-olds and 15 per cent of 15-year-olds in England classified as obese, Department of Health figures reveal.
Recently experts at the American Association of Pediatrics warned that Western countries have created a â€˜perfect stormâ€™ for childhood obesity as a result of advertising pressure and inactive lifestyles.
Southampton-based dietitian Priya Tew said that children who were given treats by their parents learned lessons that stood them in good stead later in life.
â€˜It could be that children get used to treats but learn to have smaller portions and not have them every day,â€™ she said, adding: â€˜Iâ€™d be interested to see how much exercise the children in the study carried out because it might be that the children who eat the most sweets run around the most.â€™
The study results were reported in the journal Food and Nutrition Research.