Millions of moms would say that their kids start bouncing off the walls after eating sweets. In fact, it’s almost considered common knowledge that sugar causes hyperactivity in children. But is this really true?
Surprisingly, the answer is no. The relationship between sugar and hyperactivity has been studied many times, but research has never proven cause and effect in normal children. So how did this become such a widely accepted myth?
A few reasons:
- In 1980, the New York Times published an article called “Sugar causes hyperactivity in children.” The article was based on a study that monitored kids in a playroom to see how sugar affected their play. There was a major flaw in the study though: the children were given sugary foods one week after their play was observed. No sugar was given before observation. So the “results” were not reliable. Unfortunately, the New York Times article appeared only a few days after the study came out, so readers had already been influenced by the headline.
- Sugary sodas and sweet treats are often given to kids in large, unstructured environments like birthday parties, Halloween parties, or on holidays when kids are already highly excited. Removing sugar from these environments does not tend to reduce the high energy play.
- Most parents cite soda as the item that makes their kids the most hyperactive. Many of the most common sodas have caffeine, which can cause hyperactivity in children.
- Hyperactive kids may be more likely to consume sugary foods, according to research. This could definitely influence adult expectations that some kids will be more hyper after eating sugar.
- Some research has shown that food additives like food colorings do increase hyperactivity in children. Many sugary foods — candy, soda, birthday cake, frosted cookies, even ice cream — also contain food colorings which could affect behavior. Read more about that here.
As you can see, it’s no wonder why people believe in the relationship between sugar and hyperactivity.
And though this particular effect is not proven, there certainly are many other good reasons to avoid or reduce sugar, including:
- Intake of sweetened beverages and even juices is associated with overweight and obesity in children
- Sugar is a source of “empty calories” – in other words, it provides calories but no real nutrients
- When kids eat sweets frequently, they may forgo other more nutritious foods because they’re not hungry
- The more sweet foods kids eat, the more preference they may have for sweet foods, and the more they may shun unsweetened foods (this habit can be reversed over time)
Many moms, doctors, nutritionists, and people in general have strong beliefs about the “dangers” of sugar. An examination of the research however, (and I should note: research that is NOT funded by the sugar industry) reveals that sugar does not in fact cause hyperactivity in normal child populations.
*image above taken from Balancing Motherhood blog*