It’s a well known truth of parenting that if your kids get a huge dose of sugar, you can expect them to bounce off the walls until they come down. Birthday parties and Halloween are dreaded by parents everywhere for winding kids up and making them crash hard. But does sugar really jeep them up or is that just a myth we tell ourselves to justify our kids’ crazy behavior?
If there is a correlation between sugar and bursts of hyperactivity, it hasn’t been proven by science yet. Back in the 1970s, allergist Benjamin Feingold, M.D. encouraged people to avoid food additives including artificial colors, flavors and sugar. Then, a study in the Food and Cosmetics Toxicology journal found some hyperactive children had low blood sugar, even though no explanation was found. A hypoglycemic person will get an energy bump from sugar, but what about people who don’t have low blood sugar? A myth was born that has been hard to shake.
What has been found is that if a person ingests too much sugar, most bodies will just convert it to fat and store it, not spike your blood sugar. Several high-profile studies were unable to create a link between hyperactivity and sugar in kids. What's interesting is that a 1994 study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology study has proven that parents were more likely to believe their children were hyperactive if they were given sugar, showing that it was parents’ perception all along and not a physical reaction in the body.
If you think about it, when are children likely to have a “sugar high”? It tends to be in social situations with lots of other kids or holidays with excitement in the air. Odds are, any hyperactivity is more of a result of the environment around the kids than of anything they are eating or drinking. Crazy feeds off of crazy and before you know it, the kids are ricocheting off the furniture.
In recent years, there’s been a shift in the sugar high myth to one that instead pegs food coloring as the evil ingredient responsible for hyping up kids. Is red #40 the real demon? Scientists are trying to find a link, but the results have been mixed so far. Some connection was found in a U.K. study between certain artificial dyes and kids with ADHD, but more research is needed to determine which colors are the culprit and if specific kids are susceptible.
TL;DR: Sugar hasn’t been shown to make kids hyperactive, but lots of kids running around screaming has.
Thanks to Dailybreaker Chelsea Woo for the question!