Sugar and hyperactivity: myth or reality?

Halloween is fast approaching and represents one of the most anticipated events for children worldwide. Indeed, the children in disguise get excited about collecting candy and treats. Despite this craze, parents’ concerns about the consumption of sweets and their impact on health or behavior are also emerging. By the way, part of this question is worth asking: could sugar ingestion be linked to an increase in hyperactivity symptoms in children?

The answer?

No, there is no link between sugar and hyperactivity. The perception that sugar causes hyperactivity represents one of the most common myths; however, it has been repeatedly refuted by scientific studies. Indeed, Dr. Tom Robinson, director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford, reports that sugar consumption does not cause symptoms of hyperactivity. This popular perception would rather be attributable to a placebo effect, which has already been the subject of numerous scientific studies. In one of them, researchers reported to a group of parents that their children had consumed a soft drink then to another group of parents that their children had consumed artificially flavored soda without sugar. All parents were then invited to assess, using a questionnaire, the level of agitation in their young people since the time of their consumption. Unsurprisingly, parents of children who believed their children had consumed soft drinks noted significantly more hyperactive behavior in their young ones than parents in the other group. The problem? No child had actually consumed a soft drink; instead, everyone had consumed artificially flavored soda without sugar.

The moral of the story? Factors other than sugar consumption may be at the origin of this myth. In particular, parents’ expectations, the placebo effect, and erroneous perceptions, the very excitement that accompanies the Halloween party among children, and even various myths conveyed over time by society. Although surprising, the results of this study have been replicated many times, and much other research has found no association between sugar and hyperactivity. However, even if no link exists between sugar and hyperactivity, it remains prudent to limit sugar consumption on Halloween to reduce the risks of obesity and diabetes, as well as tooth decay problems.