It’s not the sugar

Don’t worry too much about the post-Halloween sugar rush. Sugar doesn’t make kids hyperactive, writes Dan Willingham on The Answer Sheet, citing dozens of studies.  If children act crazy after eating candy, it may be the excitement of trick or treating or the birthday party or just the thrill of a sweet treat.

Or it may be parental expectations:  In a study, supposedly sugar-sensitive boys were given a drink sweetened with aspartame.

Half of the moms were told that the drink had a lot of sugar in it, and half were told it had none.

Mothers and sons then interacted on several tasks (e.g., building a Lego house together). Moms who were told their children had had sugar later rated their sons’ behavior during this interaction as more hyperactive.

Sugar also has no effect on children diagnosed with ADHD, Willingham writes.

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  1. I’ll buy the idea that sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity– there’s plenty of stimuli that would account for excited kids– but I’d bet that the subsequent insulin crash is real.

    I once snacked on a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips while skipping lunch. The resulting alkaloid overdose wasn’t much fun either.

  2. Corn Syrup makes my daughter insane. But thats mostly because her behavior deteriorates rapidly when she has hives and a headache…..

  3. Hmm–my own hyperactive kid doesn’t get hyped by sugar (indeed, if he’s really behaving badly, his behavior will improve with an influx of sugar). On the other hand, I don’t think my friend was imagining it when her hyperactive kid kept her up all night long after eating more sugar than usual. I suspect the body chemistry is different for different kids.

  4. LSquared –
    There’s a difference between hyperactivity and not being able to go to sleep. Also, the whole purpose of doing a controlled study is to eliminate other possible variables. Why was your friend’s child eating more sugar than usual? Was it Halloween or some other celebration, where children are constantly in a state of excitement throughout the day? Did the child eat a late meal or dessert? Both of these and many other possible explanations could explain the inability to fall asleep.