Get out the lollipops – science says the sugar high is a myth

Smiling preschool girl holding lollipop in kitchen

Scientists have proven that contrary to popular belief, giving children sugary treats will not make them hyperactive.

Now, can we all be excused while we head back to our childhoods and inform our parents?

Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center’s Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics chief Mark Wolraich researched the effect of sugar on children in the 1990s and declared, “sugar does not appear to affect behaviour in children”.

What he did find was that the mere expectation that a sugar-high will come from eating sweets actually influences the way parents view their child’s behaviour.

Put your hand up if, like me, you’ve blamed too much sugar for your toddler’s tantrum? At least we can still blame tiredness.

Dr Wolraich says hyperactivity at birthday parties, carnivals and other special events is more likely due to a child’s excitement levels rather than consuming the vast array of treats on offer. Chocolate crackle, anyone?

aussie party snack cover sl

But he tells Live Science, it is those very circumstances that only serve to reinforce a parents’ belief that sugar changes their child’s behaviour.

We all know if someone with low blood-sugar levels has something sugary they might get a burst of energy, but a common misconception is that the same will happen if someone without low blood-sugar levels consumes the same.

“The body will normally regulate those sugars. If it needs it, it will use the energy,” Dr Wolraich says.

“If it doesn’t need it, it will convert it to fat for storage.”

In 1994 Dr Wolraich and other researchers gave an artificial sweetener, which is not made of sugar, to 35 boys aged five to seven and told half of the boys’ mothers it was sugar.

When the mums were asked about their child’s behaviour by researchers, those who believed their son was given sugar rated their child as more hyperactive.

The study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, also captured some interesting interactions between the mums and their sons on videotape.

Researchers noticed the mums who believed their son had been given sugar stayed closer to them and were more likely to criticise them than those told their sons weren’t given sugar.

Even after conducting a longer subsequent study, Dr Wolraich and his colleagues couldn’t find a link between sugar and hyperactivity.

Sugar may not affect behaviour but it has been blamed for a growing number of dental health issues in youngsters as well as childhood obesity.

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