Sugar makes kids hyper: True/False?

It’s a wonder that sugar hasn’t been classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act given the beating it’s been taking in recent years. Not only does it rot teeth and widen waists but, as everyone knows, sugar gives you a rush. And kids just can’t handle their sugar. It makes them hyperactive. Except that it doesn’t.

Granted there were a few studies back in the seventies and eighties that seemed to show a correlation for some children between sugar intake and hyperactivity. Specifically, in children diagnosed with what is now called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Of course ADHD is itself a controversial, at least outside the medical community. It does exist though, and for a time it was thought that sugar may cause or at least aggravate it, which those early studies seemed to confirm.

More recent studies, with better controls, seem to have ruled this out. And anyway, none of these studies has ever shown sugar leads to hyperactive behaviour in “normal” children. That didn’t stop the popular press drawing the conclusion that sugar equals disruptive behaviour in all children and spreading the word to anxious parents everywhere.

What then of the anecdotal evidence, which seems to be all around? Are parents and caregivers throughout the world deluded? Well, yes. A very few children may possibly have some kind of adverse reaction — but for the vast majority sugar itself has no effect on behaviour.

There may actually be a genuine effect in the opposite direction. Active children need lots of energy, so they will naturally consume a lot of sugar to keep themselves going.

But most of the apparently unassailable “evidence” comes from the expectations of parents and their children. Parties and other situations associated with sugary foods lead to an overabundance of energy which is then misattributed to sugar. We humans aren’t too logical and much prefer to find a simple scapegoat for bad behaviour. Sugar already has so many marks against it, who would notice one more?

But while sugar may make kids heavier and destroy their teeth, it does not make them hyper. Sweet.

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