This topic has been studied by pediatricians, nutritionists, child psychologists, allergists, and behavioral scientists for years. There have been over 50 international studies conducted since the early 1970’s that assess any possible link between sugar and hyperactivity: all of the studies point to the same answer: no. Sugar does not make kids hyper.

Here in the US, the National Institutes of Health announced in 1982 that no link between sugar and hyperactivity had been scientifically proven. Why then, does every parent I speak to still think it does? Part of it may be psychological. For example, parents often cringe at birthday party invitations, dreading the “sugar high” their child will experience after cake, cookies and juice. While eating a lot of sugar in one seating may increase blood-sugar levels, a more likely reason why kids seem to bounce-off-the-walls might be what follows cake and ice-cream – for example, is the birthday boy opening presents? Are the parents at the party getting a headache from the noise and have a lower tolerance to rowdy children?

In scientific terms researchers believe parents may have confused proximity (sugary foods) with correlation (sugar rush) although the environment (the party!) is probably more to blame than the food. Case in point: a study published in the August 1994 Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology showed that parents who believe a child’s behavior is affected by sugar are more likely to perceive and report their children as hyperactive.

Of course, there are plenty of good reasons not to feed your kids a bunch of sugar, but fear of creating a little-sugar-crazed-creature isn’t one of them. Lots of sugar is bad for kids because it certainly is linked to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. And, since sugary foods are frequently high in calories and/or artificial ingredients, pediatricians get concerned about kids substituting sweet, processed foods for nutritious items, like vegetables, proteins, and whole grains.

The jury is still out, however, on whether or not replacing sugary foods and beverages with “diet” foods or beverages is better or worse. Sugar-alternatives are numerous, and so far each carry some risk when consumed in large quantities. Limited research has suggested that the body’s reaction to artificial sweeteners (increasing insulin) may be similar to that of sugar. This research will be interesting to follow.

What should parents take away from this? First, similar to other dietary advice, moderation is key. It’s OK to occasionally give your child gummy bears, a candy bar, or a Popsicle. Depriving children completely of things that taste good can make them want it even more. Second, never give babies under 6 months old juice, soda pop or other sugary drinks. Third, don’t use honey as a sugar substitute for children under 1 year of age. Fourth, if your family’s diet consists of a good amount of processed food, be careful about the hidden sugars in things like salad dressing, sauces, soups and condiments.

For information about daily quantities of sugar by age, go to The World Health Organization’s link http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/notes/2014/consultation-sugar-guideline/en/

By: Joseph Wells, MD, MVP Kids Care, Phoenix and Avondale, AZ

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