In response to the Energy Drink post, buddies Kathleen O. and Michael S. asked:
“Are you serious? Sugar doesn’t make me hyper?”
I am serious.
And there are many elegant studies supporting this. The coolest of them involved a bit of deception. The researchers basically gave a bunch of kids a sugar-free drink. The researchers told half of the parents that their kids had received a large amount of sugar, and they told the other half of the parents that their kids had received only a sugar-free drink. (But again, none of them drank any sugar!) The mothers who thought their kids had sugar rated their kids as significantly more hyperactive, and were much more critical of their behavior.
Further support for the debunking of this myth is a meta-analysis of 16 well-controlled studies investigating how sugar affects kids’ behavior or cognitive performance. All of these studies were “blind,” meaning that the research staff, the kids, and the parents did not know which condition (either sugar or sugar substitute) they were in. The authors concluded from the analysis that sugar does not affect behavior or cognitive performance. Many other meta-analyses and reviews have since been published that also conclude sugar does not make kids more hyper, despite what it seems like the rest of the world continues to believe.
But I swear that I / my kid / my coworker / my dog gets insanely hyper after eating candy!
Well, a couple of alternative hypotheses are:
A. you thinking they (or you!) are more hyper because of the sugar and therefore viewing the situation differently or even treating yourself / your child / your coworker differently. The power of expectation to influence your perception is a widely established phenomenon in psychology. (And please, don’t give your dog candy.)
B. the fact that oftentimes more sugary treats are eaten during fun parties or exciting events with lots of happy peeps. (Note: I mean people, not Peeps!) I get more hyper at parties, too! So remember, just because two things “go together” (sugar given at parties and hyperactivity) doesn’t mean one causes the other.
I’m not saying you should hook up your kid’s mainline to Pixie Stix. There are many reasons not to consume tons of sugar-filled treats. But hyperactivity is not one of them.
If you believe you or your child are overly hyperactive, and the behavior is disrupting life, don’t operate under the false assumption that limiting sugar is going to help improve the behavior. In these cases it’s best to seek the help of a mental health professional.
MS, RD, PhD
The study that deceived mothers:
Hoover, D.W., & Milich, R. (1994). Effects of sugar ingestion expectancies on mother-child interactions. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 22(4), 501-515.
Good reviews and meta-analyses:
Millichap, J.G., & Yee, M.M. (2012). The diet factor in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, 129(2), 330-337.
Benton, D. (2008). The influence of children’s diet on their cognition and behavior. European Journal of Nutrition, 47, S25-37.
Wolraich, M.L., Wilson, D.B., White, J.W. (1995). The effect of sugar on behavior or cognition in children: A meta-analysis. JAMA, 274(20), 1617-1621.