Dangerous Myths

Does sugar lead to hyperactivity in children?

Why the Myth Exists

The idea that sugar affects energy levels began in the 1920's but gained popularity in the early 1970s. Allergist Benjamin Feingold developed ab idea based on evidence from parents indicating that sugar caused their child's uncontrollable, hyperactive behaviors. Some children may be sensitive to the balance of sugar in their bodies. Often the body absorbs too much sugar into the blood stream. This leads to the excess absorption of sugar into the cells of the body. When this happens, there is a sudden burst of energy available known as a sugar high. This is one of the common sugar effects on children. It is for this reason that parents often find it difficult to deal with children who have consumed too many sweets as the sugar effects on mood are very noticeable especially in children.

Debunking the Myth

Dozens of studies have been conducted, and not one shows a link between sugar and hyperactivity. According to the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, studies show that parents who expect sugar to cause hyperactivity in children are more likely to perceive that behavior compared to unbiased observers. In a 1994 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, a group of mothers were told their children received a large dose of sugar and a second group was told their child received a placebo. In actuality, all the children received a placebo. The mothers who believed their children were given sugar rated them as significantly more hyperactive. Because many parents believe that sugar causes hyperactivity in children, they may be biased in their assessment of what is causing the hyperactivity. In another study, parents were told their kids were consuming a sugary drink, when in reality the kids really had a sugarfree drink. The parents rated their kids as being more hyperactive after drinking what they thought was a sugary drink that really contained no sugar. The kids might have been hyperactive, but sugar was not the cause. Through various experiments over the years, scientists have discovered that no substantial evidence exists to support the claim that sugar causes hyperactivity.