Banish the chocolate bars and lock up the gobstoppers – letting your children eat sweets could turn them into serial killers, according to psychiatrists.

The surprising claim is made by researchers who found that children who ate sweets and chocolate every day were more likely to be violent as adults.

The finding is based on analysis of almost 17,500 participants in the 1970 British Cohort Study, which showed that 10-year-olds who ate confectionery daily were significantly more likely to have been convicted for a violent crime in their early 30s.

Psychiatrists from Cardiff University found that 69 per cent of the participants who had convictions for violence had eaten sweets and chocolate nearly every day during their childhood, compared to 42 per cent who were non-violent.

The researchers say they controlled for other factors, such as social deprivation, and the link between eating sweets and later violence remained.

Simon Moore, who led the study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, said: "Our favoured explanation is that giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want. Not being able to defer gratification may push them towards more impulsive behaviour, which is strongly associated with delinquency."

The researchers add that eating sweets "may nurture a taste for sweetened food", which in later life will lead to exposure to additives, "the consumption of which may also contribute towards adult aggression".

Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, said: "Antisocial behaviour stems from deep-rooted social and environmental factors, such as poor parenting and a deprived upbringing, and is not linked to whether or not you ate sweeties as a kid. How anyone could leap to such a conclusion is beyond me."