The answer is no, despite the fact that so many people believe this to be true. Many carefully controlled studies have been conducted to test this idea and failed to find any effect of sugar consumption on children’s behavior. Why, then do so many people believe that sugar causes hyperactivity in children? One possibility is that parent’s beliefs affect what they see. In one recent study, a group of children thought to be “behaviorally sensitive” to sugar were studied. The children were divided into two groups. The mothers of one group were told that their children were given a drink with a lot of sugar. The mothers of the other group were told that their children had been given a drink that did not contain sugar. All children had actually been given a drink sweetened with Nutrasweet. The mothers who thought that their children had had sugar rated them as more hyperactive than the other mothers. These results suggest that parents’ and teachers’ beliefs about sugar affect their perceptions of children’s behavior.
Another possibility is that parents who believe that sugar makes their children hyperactive only allow them to have sugar for special occasions, such as birthday parties or family gatherings. These are occasions where children tend to be somewhat excited and active anyway. Then when the parents see their children being very active and excited, they think that it is due to the sugar. But regardless of the reason for people’s erroneous beliefs about this, it is quite clear that sugar does not produce hyperactivity, even when researchers have specifically focused on children with a presumed “sugar sensitivity”.
Barbara J. Strupp
Ph.D. Cornell University
Developmental cognitive disorders
Husband, David Levitsky; Son, Micheal Strupp-Levitsky; step-son Steve Levitsky; step-daughters Sandy and Susan Levitsky
West Middle School
Basketball and playing video games