CHICAGO — Candy lovers, rejoice. Indulging a sweet tooth has been linked with longevity.

“It’s a hard sell to say, ‘Eat candy, live longer,’ and yet a study out of Columbia showed that people who eat candy three times a week live longer lives,” said Nancy Snyderman, chief medical editor for NBC News. “Does candy promote longer lives? Or do happier people eat candy? Or does candy make you happy, and happier people live longer?”

Dr. Snyderman, who said she eats candy every day, defended the category during a keynote presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 20-22 in Chicago.  Candy may be unfairly vilified, she suggested.

“If you look at what’s happened over past few decades as people stepped away from sugar and replaced it with fake sugars, our body chemistry changed and our brains changed,” Dr. Snyderman said. “We have as a generation rewired our brains such that our idea of sweet is no longer that teaspoon, but now the hyper-sweetness of the fake sugars. I’m not here to bash fake sugars; I’m here to tell you they have changed how we sense satiation. The real sugar right now isn’t as much.”

Simultaneously, a host of social factors have contributed to the nation’s health crisis.

“It’s because we’ve gutted the physical education programs in our high schools and build communities without sidewalks,” Dr. Snyderman said. “We haven’t connected the farm to the fork to our schools.”

The erosion of traditional family dinners also is in part to blame, she said.

“If we resurrected that, a lot of this would be a moot point,” she said. “We cannot deny anymore that we have a fractured food system in the United States. We have to fix it. We have to connect farmers to children to schools. We have to change food policy. The basis of what we feed our children and how much we feed our children has never been so important, but the satisfaction, the joy, the science of connecting our memories, childhood experiences, cross-cultural ties with a sweet, always having something in your pocket that you can offer someone, those bridge cultural gaps like nothing else.”

Many confection companies at the show highlighted candy’s role in a healthy lifestyle. Front-of-packages labeling, share packs and re-sealable bags were prominent themes in new product innovation, as well as clean labels and functional ingredients.  According to the National Confectioners Association, which hosted the expo, most consumers view candy as a treat to be enjoyed in moderation, with 92% indicating health is a personal responsibility. Candy comprises 2% to 3% of the average adult American’s diet, the N.C.A. said.

“What we taste, how it registers in our brains, how it connects us with fellow human beings, is the social fabric of why we are at the end of the day herd animals and need each other,” Dr. Snyderman told show attendants. “I think you have the damn best jobs in the world.”