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Does sugar make kids hyperactive?

Bowl of American Candy

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Neha Prathivadi

The expression “sugar rush” is one that has been in our vocabularies since our early childhood days. Many parents are concerned about their children’s consumption of candy and other sugary foods, because they fear it will lead to overexcitement and hyperactivity. However, is there actually a link between sugar and hyperactivity in children? Researchers seem to disagree.

The concept of the “sugar rush” originated from the theory that since sugar is a source of energy for our bodies, consuming more sugar should lead to higher energy levels. In reality, our bodies don’t break down all the sugar immediately. Rather, we store it and use small amounts when needed, so we shouldn’t actually show signs of hyperactivity after eating large amounts of sugar. 

An analysis of multiple research studies found that sugar does not impact the behavior or mental performance of children. So, if there is no impact, how do we explain children appearing “hyper” after consuming sugar? The answer may be confirmation bias. Most kids tend to eat sugary foods in fun settings, like birthday parties or family holidays. Our minds may falsely link  the excitement surrounding the event to the sugar. 

Another interesting fact is that sugar blocks the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which is a component of our brain that is associated with stress. Therefore, sugar might lessen stress levels and could actually calm us.

So far, there is no evidence to show a connection between sugar and hyperactivity in children. Nevertheless, it is still important to be aware of what you are consuming in order to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. So have fun and enjoy your occasional ice cream, cookie, or candy, but make sure to snack in moderation!