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Sugar: Does it Really Cause Hyperactivity?

Contributors: Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN and Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Published: June 29, 2022

Reviewed: June 17, 2022

Sugar: Does it Really Cause Hyperactivity?
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Round up a group of kids for a party, ply them with cake and soda and before you know it they’ll be bouncing off the walls, right? Not exactly. While many parents swear that sugar makes their kids hyperactive, a substantial body of research shows there’s no link between the two.

The Sweet Truth

The sugar-hyperactivity myth is based on a single study from the mid 1970's in which a doctor removed the sugar from one child's diet and that child's behavior improved. Since then, over a dozen larger studies have been conducted without proving sugar causes hyperactivity. Interestingly enough, researchers have found that parents are more likely to say that their kids are overly active when they think they've consumed sugar. In one study, parents were asked to rate their child's hyperactivity after consuming a drink with sugar. Unknown to the parents, the drink was sugar-free, but the parents still rated their child as more hyperactive.

Guilty By Association?

You may think that your child is acting out during his or her birthday party because of the sweet snacks being consumed, but actually your child may be wired up because of the excitement of playing games and being with friends. Experts say you should take stock of your child's environment before blaming sweets for hyperactivity or bad behavior. Some studies even suggest that sugar may actually have a calming effect because it produces a chemical called serotonin which contributes to a feeling of well-being.

Get Sugar Savvy

Hyperactivity aside, there is another reason you should be concerned with the amount of added sugars your child consumes. When kids fill up on sugar-sweetened foods and beverages they have little appetite for healthier foods their growing bodies need, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. While you don't need to restrict the sweet stuff entirely (a little teaches balance and moderation), you can offer it strategically. For example, top a small bowl of ice cream or frozen yogurt with fresh berries. That way, everyone gets their just desserts – and a side of nutrition, too.

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