Scientists set on busting the sugar-hyperactivity ‘myth’

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Sugar

An article published in the British Medical Journal today has dismissed the commonly held belief that sugar causes hyperactivity in children as a ‘medical myth’.

The authors, professors of paediatrics Rachel Vreeman and Aaron Carroll, claim that scientific evidence suggests that there is no relationship between the two.

They indicated at least 12 double-blind randomised controlled trials which have investigated the relationship between sugar consumption and children’s behaviour. None had found any link – even those concentrating specifically on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they said.

“Even in studies of those who were considered “sensitive” to sugar, children did not behave differently after eating sugar full or sugar-free diets,”​ wrote the authors.

All in the mind

In addition, while many parents might be quick to blame sugary snacks and drinks for their children’s behaviour, the authors suggest that any difference may be all in the adults’ minds.

They pointed to a study in which parents had rated their children’s behaviour after being given either a sugary or sugar-free drink.

They said: “When parents think their children have been given a drink containing sugar (even if it is really sugar-free), they rate their children’s behaviour as more hyperactive.”

After conducting a review of the peer-reviewed scientific research, Vreeman and Carroll concluded that “regardless of what parents might believe…sugar is not to blame for out of control little ones.”

This is the second time this year that a review of the role of sucrose on children’s behaviour has reached this conclusion.

The authors also examined research on a number of other commonly held beliefs for the special festive edition of the British Medical Journal​. Other conclusions they drew included that poinsettias are not poisonous, it is not possible to cure a hangover and eating at night does not make you fat.

“Examining common medical myths reminds us to be aware of when evidence supports our advice, and when we operate based on unexamined beliefs,” ​they said.

Source: British Medical Journal

2008;337:a2769

“Festive Medical Myths”

Authors: Rachel C. Vreeman; Aaron E. Carroll

Related topics: Science

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