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
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.
Then a 1978 study published in the journal Food and Cosmetics Toxicology found that hyperactive children given glucose tolerance tests had results that suggested reactive hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). As yet, though, there are no good theories to explain the connection.
What We Know About SugarIn the past 10 years, several studies have examined the effects of sugar on children's behavior. Here are the aspects of the studies that make them credible:
Expectations Can Affect PerceptionsIn spite of this research, why do so many parents still believe sugar makes children hyperactive? Some researchers suggest that simply expecting sugar to affect your child can influence how you interpret what you see. A study published in the August 1994 Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology showed that parents who believe a child's behavior is affected by sugar are more likely to perceive their children as hyperactive when they've been led to believe the child has just had a sugary drink.
Beyond SugarAs parents, your observations are important, and any concerns you have about your child?s diet should be explored carefully and discussed with your pediatrician. There is often much more to the story of a child's hyperactivity than the Frosted Flakes he eats for breakfast every morning. Some factors associated with hyperactivity include:
Still Not Convinced?If after looking at everything else in your child?s life you still feel food is causing an adverse reaction, your first step should be to consult with your child?s doctor. Extreme approaches, such as eliminating whole groups of foods, can do more harm than good. After giving your child a complete physical and studying his history, your doctor may refer you to a nutritionist or an allergist -- or you might seek one out on your own.
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