Medical myths: Sugar makes children hyperactive

Dr Max Pemberton 

Know your medical facts from myths? There are a lot of old wives' tales out there. But where do they come from and what is the truth? This week, does sugar really make kids go crazy?

Is it true?

Sorry, but no, this simply isn't true. There is no evidence to show that foods or drinks that are high in sugar have any real effect on children's behaviour.

In fact, over 12 double-blind, randomised controlled trials have been done specifically looking at this claim, and in all of them no link was found between sugar intake and children's behaviour.

Interestingly, in one study, parents were told that their children had been given sugar when in fact they hadn't, and parents noted that their children were more hyperactive anyway!

Children wired on sugar
Illustration: David Humphries


Where did the myth come from?

It's possible that it's based on research into artificial colours used in sugary, fizzy drinks.

There is some evidence to suggest that certain additives (E numbers) used in sugary drinks and sweets can cause hyperactivity in susceptible children.

It seems that this might have caused confusion and people wrongly attributed the hyperactivity to the sugar, rather than the additives.


So there's nothing to worry about?

While your children might not like this, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the amount of sugar they eat.

Although sugar might not affect a child's behaviour, it does still affect their teeth, and it's linked to obesity and even diabetes.