Q. Do sugary treats really make kids hyperactive? Someone told me it’s a myth.
Georgia, Coogee, NSW
A. Associate Professor Tim Crowe responds:
The idea that sugar triggers hyperactivity is one of the most common food myths, yet this half-baked belief has been well and truly busted by science.
A wealth of controlled clinical trials has failed to uncover any behavioural differences between children who consume sugar and those who don’t. Even studies of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show no significant variations.
In fact, it’s only when researchers introduce intentional bias into these kinds of experiments — by telling mum and dad what their child ate — that the myth’s real exponents reveal themselves. A telling US analysis shows that when parents believe their child has been given a sugary drink, they consistently rate his or her behaviour as more hyperactive, even if the drink was completely sugar free.
So why do children seem so hyperactive when they consume a lot of sugar? In such situations, context is key. At birthday parties and similar celebrations, kids often have unrestricted access to sugar-laden foods — but it’s the fun, freedom and presence of other children that makes them run around and disrupt events, not the food.
The issue here is that according to World Health Organization experts, kids who eat and drink too much sugar are prone to excess weight gain and dental problems. So despite the lack of evidence to support this myth, there are valid reasons to restrict the amount of sugar your kids eat, for the sake of their health.