It is a common belief that sugar induces hyperactivity in children, however several different studies have dispelled this idea and it remains unclear whether or not a direct link exists.
There are many different schools of thought to address what is really going on when it comes to children’s hyperactive behavior. One theory is that it is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of the parent, where the parent views their child as being overly active based on the fact that they consumed a sugary treat. This idea comes from a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology in August 1994.
It is also important to consider the age of the child, the events surrounding them at the time of consumption, and the endurance level of the parent. When all of these components come into play, the resulting behaviors of the child will be perceived differently. Take for example, a mom throwing a birthday party for her three-year-old after a long day of work will likely perceive the children to be off the wall after their last bite of birthday cake, whereas another mom throws a party for her ten-year-old on a Saturday morning, might find the crowd to be more tolerable.
Another theory that has been around since the 1970s is the “Feingold Hypothesis.” Dr. Feingold was an allergist and pediatrician who after much research believed that the contributing factor to hyperactivity in children is food additives (including artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, aspartame, and artificial preservatives: BHA, BHT, TBHQ). The Feingold Diet is often used in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and has also been found to help with other conditions such as eczema, asthma, autism, sleep disorders, and many other learning or behavioral disorders. For a complete list and more information about the diet, see: http://www.feingold.org/.
The bottom line is that the exact cause of hyperactivity in children remains to be proven. But remember that kids have a lot of energy and depending on their age, attention span, and excitement level, children will be overly active at times. If you think your child is exhibiting abnormal levels of hyperactivity, speak to your pediatrician to determine the appropriate steps to take.
All things considered, it couldn’t help to include the following in your child’s (and your own!) diet:
- Limit the amount of sugar consumed by minimizing fruit juices and sugary beverages, candy, sugary cereals, cakes, etc.
- Limit/avoid artificial colorings/flavors/preservatives (be sure to check ingredient labels)
- Include fiber in the diet to maintain adrenaline levels by adding plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
By Alyssa Puorro, RD
Feingold Association. (March 4, 2010). Many learning and behavior problems begin in your grocery cart! Feingold Association of the United States. Retrieved from http://feingold.org/overview.php
Kaneshiro, Neil. (May 5, 2011). Hyperactivity and sugar. Medline Plus. Retrieved from
WebMD. (1999). Busting the sugar-hyperactivity myth. WebMD, LLC. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/busting-sugar-hyperactivity-myth