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Question: Does sugar cause hyperactivity in children?

Answer: No, sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children. There is no scientific evidence to support this theory. The hyperactivity that parents observe in their children is likely situational. Think of the times that you typically offer high sugar foods. Many times these foods are consumed around celebrations, games or play time with friends or in other words, stimulating times where children are likely to be excited and more boisterous.

The myth of sugar causing hyperactivity was based on a single study conducted in 1974 in which a doctor removed sugar from one child's diet and the child's behavior improved. Dozens of other studies have been conducted over the years and none of them have found that sugar causes hyperactivity.

About this evidence business, you might say, "I don't need a study to tell me. I've seen my kids bouncing off the walls after a piece of cake!" Parents are actually more likely to report that their children are hyperactive when they think the children have consumed sugar. One study showed this to be the case even when the children had not consumed any sugar, but the parents believed that they had. Sugar consumption can actually have a calming effect because it causes the brain to produce serotonin which gives an overall feeling of well-being.

Think about your own experience with sugary foods. Did you experience a surge in energy the last time you ate a handful of candy or drank a glass of lemonade? Probably not.

Besides concerns about hyperactivity, there are other reasons to limit sugar in your children's diet. When sugary snacks and drinks are offered in place of nutritious foods your child may be missing out on key nutrients for growth and development found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and proteins and low-fat dairy. Keep in mind that your young child's stomach is still small so they can fill up quickly. Make the most of meals and snacks by offering healthy choices most of the time.

Check out for more information on appropriate foods for young children and for tips on how to cut back on sweets.


Audra Losey MS RD

Registered Dietitian from UNL Extension

Audra Losey is a wife and mom of two young children. She is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in Community Nutrition and Health Promotion and dual bachelor degrees in Exercise Science and Dietetics. Audra is employed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Nutrition Education Program teaching limited resource families in Douglas and Sarpy counties about healthy eating on a budget. She's especially interested in teaching kids about food and physical activity, and connect ...

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