Does sugar make kids more hyperactive?
Many parents say yes. Is this true or is it just our perception?
One study tackled this question head-on by examining a group of boy ages 5-7 all of whom were identified by their mothers as “behaviorally sensitive” to sugar. Study organizers told some mothers that their sons were given a lot of sugar. They told others that their sons had a placebo. After watching their sons on video, the moms were asked to describe their sons’ behavior. The mothers who were told that the sons were given sugar said that their sons’ behavior was more hyperactive than those who were told that their sons had a placebo. In reality, all the boys received the exact same placebo, a sugar substitute called aspartame. These results led the authors to conclude that the expectation that sugar will cause hyperactivity biases parents’ perception of their child’s behavior.
Since that study, two publications reviewed the available evidence and concluded that it does not support the theory that sugar causes hyperactivity. In their 2013 article, Flora and Polenick even go so far as to call this theory “the Sugar-Hyperactivity Myth”. They also point out that many studies have found that sugar consumption improves athletic, cognitive and academic performance and may even increase self-control.
Even with all this research, disagreement remains. A study published in 2011 hypothesized that the effects of chronic sugar intake may lead to changes in mesolimbic dopamine signaling, which could in turn contribute to ADHD symptoms. So where does that leave us? Is there a connection between sugar and hyperactivity or isn’t there?
On the whole, the majority of available evidence does not link sugar to hyperactivity. That doesn’t mean we’re free to gorge ourselves on Twinkies and cake pops or let our kids indulge in second helpings of dessert! It is important to remember that maintaining a healthy diet is key to living a long and healthy life. If you are considering a change in diet to manage ADHD symptoms or tics, please consult your doctor. You may also want to consider consulting with a dietician.
Do you think sugar causes hyperactivity? Comment down below.
Hoover, D. & Milich, R. “Effects of sugar ingestion expectancies on mother-child interactions” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. August 1994. Vol 22 (4): 501-515. Available online: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02168088
Johnson, R. et al. “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Is it time to Reappraise the Role of Sugar Consumption?” Postgraduate Medicine. Sept 2011 123 (5): 39-49. Available online: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3810/pgm.2011.09.2458
Flora, Stephen & C. Polenick. “Effects of Sugar Consumption on Human Behaivour & Performance” The Psychological Record, 2013. 63:1-12. Available online: http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephen_Flora/publication/257308874_Effects_of_sugar_consumption_on_human_behavior_and_performance/links/53fb52c90cf20a4549706f5f.pdf