The myth of the sugar high

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M. Spector M. Spector's picture
The myth of the sugar high

see below


What next? Sugar doesn't give them cavities either?


M. Spector M. Spector's picture

It’s a truth universally acknowledged — and, for parents everywhere, seemingly verified this past Monday night — that a child in possession of sugar will turn into a hyperactive maniac. And yet, according to Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and journalist, the whole idea that sugar makes kids hyper has no basis in science. Writing at the excellent blog [url= Incidental Economist[/url], Carroll points out an incredible fact: of 12 differently configured studies trying to link sugar to hyperness in kids, none have detected differences in behavior between kids who’ve eaten sugar and kids who haven’t.

Carroll is particularly struck by one study, in which a number of children were given the identical sugar-free beverage to drink. Half of the parents were told that the drink contained lots of sugar. When asked to rate their children’s behavior, they rated them as “significantly more hyperactive” than normal. The link, Carroll writes, “is entirely in parents’ heads.”

That’s not to say there isn’t a correlation: Kids are often given sugar on occasions that are already exciting, like Halloween or a birthday party. There are plenty of reasons to avoid giving your kids too much sugar, Carroll concludes, but hyperactivity isn’t one of them.


Northern Shoveler Northern Shoveler's picture

M. Spector do you know any studies done on long term effects of sugar on children?  What other health risks are there besides the killers, obesity and diabetes.  Did this study use sugared juice drinks or colas with caffeine and sugar in them?  I liked this comment from the blog because it delves into the real problem and that is processed foods in general and all the things that go into them to increase shelf life etc. 

I avoid sugar and when I indulge in chocolate occasionally if a have a very small amount it is alright but anything more and I get a pounding headache within minutes. I however have no problem eating all the berries I want and the "sugar" content is the same.

Deb wrote:

So, some kids were given a “sugar-free drink.” What ELSE was in that drink? Were any of the kids sensitive to red food dyes that may or may not have been in those drinks? (mine are, and I have unsolicited accounts from other parents and from teachers who’ve seen my kids after they eat certain foods to back that up.) What about to artificial sweeteners? To artificial flavorings? What kind of sugar? Glucose? Fructose? Sucrose (a mix of both)? HFCS (which in many cases contains mercury)? My kids are also sensitive to fructose, to the point that more than one small juice box renders them spacy and weepy and combative in the space of 20 minutes; this lasts for several hours (and again, plenty of third-party commentary, anecdotal though it may be, to back this up as well). Were ANY of the children tested for any food sensitivities that might account for the behaviors? And since when is “sugar” a single monolithic substance?

Fact: I let my kids have a couple pieces of Halloween candy after they came back from Trick-or-Treating. By a “couple” I mean 2 or 3, depending on the size of the selections. The child who had sneaked 3 more pieces while still out on rounds went to bed weepy and frazzled and woke exhausted, even after having had a nutritious supper and going to bed at close to her normal bedtime, while the other “only” had a restless night; neither circumstance here is the norm. That reinforces my experiences of the past 10 years with my children on processed foods, not to mention my experience as a teacher for the past 30 years.



M. Spector M. Spector's picture

I like to think that food scientists know the difference between sugared and sugar-free drinks.

And I don't accept anecdotes as disproof of scientific studies.

The Incidental Economist wrote:
There have been at least twelve trials of various diets investigating different levels of sugar in children’s diets.  That’s more studies than are often done on drugs. None of them detected any differences in behavior between children who had eaten sugar and those who hadn’t.  These studies included sugar from candy, chocolate, and natural sources.  Some of them were short-term, and some of them were long term.  Some of them focused on children with ADHD. Some of them even included only children who were considered “sensitive” to sugar. In all of them, children did not behave differently after eating something full of sugar or something sugar-free.


but doesn't sugar on a nutritional level give you energy? or maybe it's all the other chemicals and stuff that's usually in food that contains a lot of sugar. 

i looked at the ingredients of a "cherry pie" at 7-11 the other day and it had dozens of things i couldn't pronounce.  same is true for most sugary treats.