There is a commonly held belief that children who are given too much sugar will immediately engage in hyperactive behavior. The concept seems to be that kids get a “sugar-high” from sugary treats and that this causes them to have a ton of extra energy. But, is that really what is going on?
In the 1990’s Dr. Mark Wolraich, who is currently chief of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics at Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center, was among the researchers that investigated sugar’s effect on children. They found that sugar does not appear to affect behavior in children.
One study on this topic (which Dr. Marc Wolraich was not involved in) was titled “Effects of sugar ingestion expectancies on mother-child interactions.” It was published in 1994 in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. The study involved a total of thirty-five boys who were between the ages of 5 and 7. The mothers of all of the boys in the study described their child as behaviorally “sugar sensitive”.
The researchers gave the thirty-five boys a drink that contained aspartame (which is an artificial sweetener that is not made of sugar.) Half of the mothers were told that their boy had been given sugar. When the researchers asked the mothers in that group about their son’s behavior, the mothers rated their children as “more hyperactive” after they had been given sugar. But, the boys had not been given any sugar at all.
The researchers videotaped the mothers as they interacted with their sons. The mothers who believed that their sons had been given sugar stayed closer to their sons, and were more likely to criticize their sons, than were the mothers who were not told that their sons had been given sugar.
In short, the results indicated that there was no connection between hyperactivity and the consumption of sugar. The mothers were behaving under what can be called a “placebo effect”. The mothers believed that their sons were given sugar. They believed that sugar caused their sons to be hyperactive. The mothers believed that they observed their sons behaving badly as a result of sugar. Again, the sons had not been given any sugar at all.
Dr. Mark Wolrich points out that healthy bodies will regulate sugars. If the body needs that sugar (due to low blood-sugar levels), the body will use it. If it doesn’t need that sugar, the body will convert it to fat and store it.
In short, studies have not found a link between hyperactivity and sugar consumption. The “sugar high” that causes kids to suddenly gain a lot of energy as a result of consuming sugar appears to be a myth.
Related Articles at Families.com: