Can Sugar Make Children Hyperactive?

It is quite common for any parent to notice their children to be hyperactive during or after a birthday bash or after attending an annual function at school where they eat a lot of cake and chocolates. This gives rise to quite a pertinent question as to whether intake of sugary products causes hyperactivity in a child. While most parents will agree to it by just looking at the excitement and energy that their children suddenly possess just at the site of sweeteners and most of all cakes and pastries but is there any scientific basis to it?.[1,2,3]

A search for an answer to this question started way back in the 90s. All these years there have been various studies done to look for a link between sugar and hyperactivity in children. All the studies have thrown up variable results.[1,2,3] The article below highlights whether there is really any link between sugar intake and increased hyperactivity in children.

Can Sugar Make Children Hyperactive?

As stated, this topic gained attention of researchers in the 90s. This led to a host of studies being conducted. A meta-analysis was published in JAMA in 1995 that closely analyzed the findings of about 23 experiments across 16 scientific studies. The researchers included only blinded studies and used a placebo in which the participants of the studies and their parents and even the teachers had no idea as to which child received a placebo and which one sugar.[3]

The activities of these children were studied. The researchers concluded that there was no substantial change in behavior noted in children who were given sugar and those who were given placebo. The researchers however did not rule out slight change in their behavior and agreed that more studies on a large scale were needed to come up with a more definitive conclusion.[3]

The researchers also observed that there is also a possibility that the effects of sugar in children may be different in some children to an extent but there is nothing in the studies to suggest a substantial change in the activity level or cognition of children after sugar intake as reported by many parents.[3]

There have also been reports by some parents that their child may be overly sensitive to sugar. This observation was also analyzed by various studies by researchers. For this, two groups of children were monitored. One group consisted of 25 children aged between 3 and 5 and were considered as normal or displayed no change in their behavior with sugary intake.[3]

The second group consisted of 23 children aged between 6 and 10 who were considered to be sensitive to sugar. The families of both these groups were asked to follow three types of diets respectively for a period of three weeks. For the first week, the diet consisted of foods high on sucrose but without any artificial sweeteners. This was followed by a diet that was low in sucrose but with the addition of aspartame for a week. For the third week, the diet was low in sucrose but with addition of saccharin as a sweetener which is a placebo.[3]

Aspartame was included in the diet as it was found by researchers to be one of the sweeteners that was considered to make children hyperactive and cause other behavioral issues. It was ensured that all the three diets did not have any additives, colors, and preservatives. The behavior of the children was assessed after each week to look for any changes in cognition and behavior.[3]

The researchers concluded that the children who were considered to be sensitive to sugar did not display any significant cognitive and behavioral change across all the parameters that were gauged with regard to cognitive and behavioral performance irrespective of the diet. For preschool kids, 4 out of 31 showed some amount of difference in those parameters. However there was no clear pattern in the changes identified.[3]

Another study done in 2017 that was published in Journal of Food Sciences in which 287 children participated aged between 6 and 12. The data was collected from questionnaires regarding food, sleep cycle, and overall behavior. The results showed 81% of children who had change in their behavior pattern had more sugar intake than recommended.[3]

Despite these results, the researchers still believe that increased sugar consumption does not cause any significant change in the behavioral or cognitive changes in children. It certainly does not cause hyperactivity. Although there are no scientific reasons for children to be hyperactive due to sugar intake, there are still some parents who believe that their children become hyperactive after consuming sugar.[3]

Researchers believe this is mainly seen in parents who tend to exercise more control on their children or tend to reprimand or criticize the child. Additionally, television also plays a role in spreading this myth about sugar. It is quite common for a child to become hyperactive when in the company of a group of children such as during a birthday party. However, such hyperactivity should not be blamed on sugar intake. It is rather the adrenalin rush of the occasion that causes hyperactivity in children than the cake that they ate at the party.[3]

In conclusion, sugar does not cause hyperactivity in majority of the children and even if there is some change in behavior it is not significant enough. However, increased sugar intake does increase the risk of other medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems later in life.[1,2,3]

It is quite common for children to be hyperactive on occasions and it may also be possible that they may have consumed more sugar but the two should not be connected. However care should be taken that increased sugar should not become a habit in children as this increases likelihood of various medical conditions later on in life.[1,2,3]

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