Does sugar really make kids hyper?

Food culture is crawling with myths (via Telegraph): swallowed gum stays in your stomach for ever; brown eggs are better than white; microwaving food destroys its nutritional value… and too much sugar makes kids hyper. But does it?

The answer, doctors and researchers say after years of study, is a resounding no. Mark Wolraich, who has studied the effect of sugar on children during the 1990s, and is Chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Oklahoma University Health Sciences, tells LiveScience that parents who see children bouncing off walls correlate their increased activity with the foods they’ve consumed, and kids that are at an exciting event are often chowing down on sugary treats. 

That means that parental expectations of a sugar high are what drive adults into thinking that sugar is the reason why their children are bouncing off walls. So if parents think sugar — not excitement — is the reason their children are hyper, then they feel their suspicions are justified.

Kristi L. King, a senior pediatric dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital, agrees. “Just thinking their children were consuming sugar caused moms to perceive their children as being more hyperactive,” she tells CNN. “When children consume sugar, it’s usually around something fun: holidays, birthdays, celebrations; there’s already that excitement there. I don’t think you can say the sugar made them run around and play with friends. That would be very hard to separate out.”

Studies show sugar doesn't make most kids hyper

CNN says the now-debunked link between sugar and hyperactivity dates back to the 1970s, when a pediatrician suggested the elimination of artificial flavorings, sweeteners, and preservatives to try and deal with ADHD symptoms in children — with sugar lumped into that list. While it is safe to say that the link between sugar and hyperactive behavior in children has been disproved by studies conducted during the 1990s, there is still a small number of children who have ADHD and have a sugar sensitivity. 

As a result, parents may notice an increase in aggressiveness or activity after they’ve had something sugary, Jill Castle, a registered dietitian says. Unfortunately, because sugary foods also often have high amounts of food dye, artificial flavors, and additives, it is difficult to single out sugar as the reason behind what looks like a sugar rush.

But don’t dismiss sugar as a culprit for anything serious just yet. Even if it’s true that someone with low blood sugar benefits from a sugary hit, there are setbacks to those who take in sugar when their bodies don’t need it: “The body will normally regulate those sugars,” Wolraich said. “If it needs it, it will use the energy. If it doesn’t need it, it will convert it to fat for storage.” So just like with everything else, it’s fine — in moderation.

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