Sugar: does it make children go 'hyper'?

Thursday, May 25, 2006
To find out the truth about sugar — does giving kids lots of lollies make them go hyper?

We all know the story — the more lollies kids eat, the more hyperactive they become. But do lollies really send kids on an out-of-control sugar high? Or are they just a harmless childhood treat? Kids Arianna and her friend Julia are let loose on a sanctioned trip to their local lolly shop.

The test is to find out if there is any change in the kids' behaviour as soon as the sugar kicks in. During the test, the kids managed to keep a lid on their hyperactivity during the actual eating bit, but it's a different story when the girls leave to go home.

Mum 1: "When they got back home they just ran around."

Mum 2: "Pretty hyper, running up and down the hallway, screaming at the top of their lungs."

Mum 1: "They were very loud."

But could the girls have been excited to be together and having fun or was their hyperactivity the result of eating the sweets?

Mum 2: "I believe it had something to do with candy!" The results may look pretty cut and dried — give your kids some lollies and they're bound to go hyper. But things aren't always what they seem.

Scientifically, there is no link to show that sugar does cause children to become hyperactive.

According to Dr Kleinman, Professor of Pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, "There are no studies to show that sugar in the commonly eaten foods makes children overly active or causes them to be hyperactive and have attention deficit."
In all the studies that have been done over the years, some kids were given sugar, and some were given sugar substitutes. The results have shown that if you have somebody watching the children and they don't know which child was given the sugar or the substitute, they can't tell which child had the sugar or the non sugar.

Therefore, as Dr Kleinman sees it, sugar's not the culprit — the child's environment is.

"Let me explain this a little bit. You bring a child to church and most children are going to sit there quietly and not be terribly active. You bring them out to a playground and they're going to be running all over the place. The setting makes a difference. There's no relationship between eating that food and being normally active," she says.

So if sugar isn't the culprit, how much should they be allowed to eat?

According to Boston-based nutritionist Debra Wein, when it comes to sugar, it's helping to contribute to growing obesity rates, leading to higher rates of diabetes and other consequences of obesity.

Parents should also be worried about potential tooth decay! Also, kids who eat too much sugar start craving it — a consequence of their blood sugar levels continually rising and falling.

While most doctors will stand by the fact that there is no scientific link between the two, they will advise that when it comes to sugary foods it is best off given as a treat.

Therefore the solution, says Dr Wein, is moderation: "Moderating the amount of sugars would be great. Substituting some healthier snacks, limiting just portions would be great. I think, as parents, our role is to give our children healthy options and to look at good quality then let them choose quantity. When it comes to sugar and that kind of things, it's more of this is a treat, something special, not something we do on a regular basis."

  • The recommended daily intake of sugar is four to five teaspoons but many kids consume closer to 25 teaspoons a day.

  • Kids can get 10 teaspoons worth of sugar just from drinking one can of regular soft drink.

  • Childhood obesity is a major issue as around 25 percent of Australian kids are estimated to be overweight or obese.

  • Dietary changes are needed — or the percentage of effected Aussie kids will continue to climb and by the year 2020, based on current trends, up to 40 percent of children will be overweight or obese.

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