It is generally accepted that sugar is the driving force behind hyperactivity in children and the epitome of afternoon pick-me-up. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this idea ̵
Ask a parent, and he will not deny it: If you give sweets to a child, it's like you're enrolling him in a Parkour tournament. They run, they jump, they scream, they make endless wagon wheels. It's the ultimate test of the patience of an adult. It is therefore not surprising that many parents occasionally give sweets to their children.
The theory that sugar can increase your energy and mood is not new. For decades, we have been looking for sugary snacks to survive a long day or cheer up after a heartbreak. But does sugar really work that way, or is it all in our heads? Experts say it's all just a guess.
The Link Between Sugar and Hyperactivity
In the 1970s, sugar was first associated with behavior. The allergist Benjamin Feingold has developed his eponymous elimination diet to prevent hyperactivity in children. Even if you are unfamiliar with his name, you are probably familiar with some concepts in Feingold's elimination diet. He believed that you could alleviate the symptoms of ADHD – and eventually eliminate it, if you do without food additives such as dyes and artificial flavors. Fine gold never officially prohibited sugar, but the mention of sweeteners was enough to raise the fear of a link between sugar and behavior.
The parents became alert and the confectionery manufacturers felt threatened. Scientists, on the other hand, were skeptical.
It was not long before things changed. The first that debunked the existence of the Sugar Burst was the National Institutes of Health in 1982. A report in the medical journal Nutrition and Health concluded that the claim that sugar has a harmful effect on children , was scientifically unfounded.
Several studies in the 1990s further supported these statements. Two experiments examined the effects of aspartame and artificial sweeteners on children with ADHD and did not show any significant results.
One particularly interesting study hinted at the theory that the sugar boost was simply the materialization of the parents' fears, resulting in poor parenting and, ultimately, hyperactive children.
In 1994, researchers took in 35 mothers who interacted with their children. All women said their children are sensitive to sugar. They were divided into two groups. One group was told that sugar had been given to their children, and the other was told that their children had not received any. In fact, all children were given a sugar-free placebo.
The mothers who reported higher hyperactivity in their children were those who thought they had received sugar. In addition, they acted according to their anxious expectations. This group of mothers stayed closer to their children, criticizing and talking to them more than usual.
The following year, a meta-analysis of 16 high-quality studies on the relationship between sugar intake and ADHD in children showed no significant effects on behavior or cognitive performance. The idea of a sugar rush was officially declared a myth.
Nevertheless, the belief in it remains strong.
What modern science says
New research confirms what we've been told. Recently, UK and German scientists conducted a study based on data from 31 previous publications. In addition to being confirmed by experts in the 1990s, they found that sugar not only has no effect on mood, but also lowers alertness and increases fatigue. These are the opposites of the effects we usually associate with sugar. The results of a 2017 study were perhaps even more surprising, as they linked sugar intake to frequent mental disorders and depression.
So, why are some people still wary of sweets – especially when it comes to their kids? And why do some people still expect a sugary snack to survive the day? A possible cause could be a successful marketing. Once an idea is known to the public, it is difficult to change. This could also be the case with the fine gold diet.
This belief certainly seems to have a psychological aspect, as suggested by the theory of "parental fear" in the 1994 study. If you are repeatedly told that sugar gives you a high level, base your actions on those expectations and the association. You will eat sweets when you need energy and feel anxious near sugar-eating children.
Some experts believe that we give children sugar when they are already hyperactive, such as at a birthday party or in the park. They are close to other children and eat foods that they do not normally eat – two perfectly normal reasons why they are already excited.
Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children and does not make you more alert. However, it is still a good idea to avoid this if possible. Sugar contributes to weight gain and can cause a variety of serious health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.
Although it does not have the alleged effects, limiting sugar intake is still good – and healthy -. idea.