While many parents and teachers blame sugar consumption for an increase in hyperactive behaviour, scientific studies have failed to find a link. Studies have included kids who have ADHD as well as children without any pre-existing hyperactive behaviour.
Brown sugar crystals
‘Investigated the effects of sugar in hyperactive children. Seven-day dietary records were obtained on 28 hyperactive 4–7 yr olds, and independent, reliable observations of hyperactive behaviors were made on each S. Amount of sugar products consumed, ratio of sugar products to nutritional foods, and ratio of carbohydrates to protein were all significantly associated with amounts of destructive-aggressive and restless behaviors observed during free play. In contrast, the percentage of S‘s diet containing additives or salicylates (i.e., foods not allowed by the Feingold diet) was not significantly correlated with observed hyperactive behavior. A partial correlation procedure used to rule out 3rd variables that could have produced a spurious correlation between sugar consumption and observed behavior did not diminish the original correlations.’
– Prinz, R. J., Roberts, W. A., Hantman, E. (December 1980). Dietary correlates of hyperactive behavior in children Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Volume 48(6) p. 760-769.
We might have blamed sugar too quickly. In fact, in some studies parents – the most common observers of child behaviour – reported more hyperactive behaviour when they thought kids were given a sugar solution even though the kids were given a placebo. This indicates that the connection between hyperactive behaviour and sweets actually might be in the minds of the adults who are observing the children.
On top of that, the worrying evidence against the sugar-myth does not stop there. Sugar has also tested together with placebos:
‘The majority of controlled experimental studies, […] do not support the notion that sugar intake leads to an increase in activity or hyperactivity. Studies comparing a sucrose challenge with a placebo (usually saccharin or aspartame) did not find differences in behaviours such as activity, impulsivity or locomotion […] even when the tests were carried out in children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder […].’
– Bellisle. F. (2004). Effects of diet on behaviour and cognition in children British Journal of Nutrition, 92, Suppl. 2, S227–S232 p. 2
In view of the questionable behaviour and misjudgements of parents and when compared with a placebo there appears to be no conclusive evidence for a distinct correlation between sugar and hyperactivity.
Nevertheless, it must be noted that a number of studies have shown a relationship between artificial colourings and hyperactivity. However, there is some educated opposition to that view. At least for now, the effect of food colourings remains another controversial issue.
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