Feature Archive

Busting the Sugar-Hyperactivity Myth

Are you convinced the reason for your son or daughter's rowdiness lies in a box of Milk Duds? You're not alone.

By Michael Regalado
WebMD Feature Are you convinced the reason for your son or daughter's rowdiness lies in a box of Milk Duds? You?re not alone. Many concerned parents and health organizations believe there is a link between a child's diet and behavior. The latest group to join the debate is the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which recently released a report charging that the government, professional agencies and the food industry have been ignoring evidence that diet affects behavior. However, the majority of studies so far haven't found a connection, and most in the medical industry maintain there is no known link between sugar and hyperactivity.

Still, many concerned parents feel certain they've seen a cause-and-effect relationship between sweets and rowdiness. Admittedly, more research would be needed to completely rule out the possibility of a link, but there are many plausible reasons other than sugar why a child may be bouncing off the walls.

Where Did the Sugar-Hyperactivity Theory Come From?

The notion that food can have an effect on behavior grew popular in 1973 when allergist Benjamin Feingold, M.D., published the Feingold Diet. He advocated a diet free of salicylates, food colorings and artificial flavoring for treating hyperactivity. Although Feingold?s diet didn't call for eliminating sugar specifically, it did suggest to many parents that food additives might be better avoided. Little surprise, then, that refined sugar soon came under scrutiny.