Does Sugar Really Make Kids Hyper?

Joelle Klein

by | Updated: August 28th, 2022 | Read time: 5 minutes

Imagine a birthday party filled with a bunch of 5-year-olds. You’re probably picturing a scene filled with happy, loud kids, running and bouncing like a bunch of Mexican jumping beans. Of course, many parents would assume that these young party-goers are hyped up on sugary-birthday cake, candy and fruit punch. But those parents would be wrong.

It’s common for parents to associate sugar with hyperactivity. But study after study shows that this theory is not true.

Girls Playing at Outdoor Party to Represent Concept of Does Sugar Make Kids Hyper

Why do people think sugar makes kids hyper?

This myth dates back to the 1970s when allergist Dr. Benjamin Feingold recommended a diet free of additives and preservatives such as food dyes and artificial flavors to help reduce symptoms of ADHD. While he didn’t specifically call out sugar, it got lumped into the food additive group because parents already suspected it led to behavior issues.

After this recommendation, it became a common belief of parents that sugar = hyperactivity and potentially sleep, learning and behavior issues. While studies show that sugar does not lead to hyperactivity in the majority of children, that’s not to say that consuming too much sugar is healthy. Parents were happy to make sugar the culprit when it came to manic kids.

Sure, kids consuming cake and treats at a birthday party do seem overly energetic. But, the truth is that this energy is most likely a result of excitement and joy, not buttercream.

Are you sure sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity?

According to experts and study after study, the majority of children are not affected by sugar. But, of course, there are some exceptions. As with adults, some children are more sensitive or affected by certain ingredients or foods.

A meta-analysis, which is an analysis of a group of studies, looked at 16 double-blind randomized, the gold standard of studies, reports on sugar and children and concludes that “sugar does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children.”

Surprisingly, this analysis was published back in 1995! Yet, parents continued, and continue to this day, to think that sugar makes kids wild.

In one 1994 study, 35 5-to-7-year-old boys were given the same sugar-free drink. However, half the parents were told it was a sugar-packed drink, and the others were told the truth. The parents who thought their sons consumed the sugary drink rated them as significantly more hyperactive than the parent group who knew the drinks had no sugar.

A more recent study looked at the sleep and behavior patterns of 287 8 to 12-year-olds. While 81% (!) of them consumed more than the recommended daily amount of sugar, researchers found no connection between sugar consumption and sleep and behavior problems.

However, there is one group of kids whose behavior is possibly affected by too much sugar in their diet. Studies are inconclusive on whether a diet high in sugar is linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

But, still, too much sugar is not good for kids, or anyone

While there is no clear connection between sugar and hyperactivity, there is a link between sugar and heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dental cavities. The American Heart Association recommends kids and teens consume less than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, a day of added sugars. The average kid, and most adults, eat 17 teaspoons of sugar – a day.

Bottom line: kids consume too much sugar. Also, remember that sugar goes by different names on food labels: corn syrup, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, and brown rice syrup are some of them. So be on the lookout for all of them.

If you’re wondering how kids can eat that much sugar a day, consider that a can of soda has 40 grams of sugar. So yes, one can of soda contains close to the amount of sugar your child should be consuming in a week.

On the other hand, natural sugars in fruits and milk are good for your child. So, while you cut back on sugary drinks and baked goods, don’t cut back on those healthy snacks. But, do cut back on snacks that seem healthy, sports drinks and some cereals but contain a lot of sugar. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of reading food labels, so you know what is in the food you prepare and serve.

Consider saving sugary snacks or treats such as ice cream or birthday cake for special occasions and making fruit and other healthy snacks such as vegetables, nut butters, nuts, popcorn and sugar-free yogurt more of your go-to lunchbox staples.

Eating sugar now and then won’t lead to any health problems or hyperactivity, so there is no need to cut out treats and sugar entirely. But, it’s also a good idea to keep a handle on the amount your kids consume because it’s best to start healthy eating habits from a young age.

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