Friday, July 8, 2011

Sugar Makes Kids Hyper

Throughout my childhood, my mother would always deny my siblings and I any kind of sugar loaded snacks past 8 o'clock at night. When we begged and complained she would stand her ground and say "No, you can't have any (cake, candy, doughnuts). You'll be up all night!" We would eventually give up and walk away, moaning and groaning, knowing that we wouldn't get our way. Many of my friends parents had the same rules for their kids as well: no eating snacks loaded with sugar late at night. It would just make them hyper and keep them up all night. But how does this make any sense?

According to Milich, Wolraich, and Lindgren(1986), it doesn't. Their empirical research on consumption of sugar shows that it has no effect on children's behavior. According to Milich, etc., parents are not aware of the need to control for covariates. A covariate is another variable that is associated with the variable of interest but might not be noticeable. In this case, sugar would be considered the covariate. Fiorello(2001) says parents need to look at the situations in which children eat a lot of sugar, such as Halloween or a birthday party, not take notice of the excitement level that these events bring to the children. The kids aer more likely to be excited and hyper due to the actual event taking place than they are due to their consumption of a lot of sugar.

Fiorello (2001) also points to another covariate: parents who let their kids do whatever they want, whenever they want. These parents tend not to restrict the sugar intake of their children and let them run wild at all times. These kids will certainly make you think that it is the sugar that is making these children misbehave, when in reality it is the parenting. A counter example is a parent who restricts the sugar intake of their child and teaches them self restraint and obedience. These kids will not be seen running around to and from all corners of the room. A look at these children will leave one to believe that they aren't on any sugar at the moment.

In conclusion, there is no strong scientific evidence that supports the claim that sugar intake by a child will make them hyper. As a result of this lack of evidence, I think that it is fine to allow your children sweets and sugary snacks once in a while and not have to fear about the child becoming to excited. I don't have any kids yet, but if that day comes I will be sure to remember this information in the event that my kids want a little candy before bed.

Fiorello, C.A. (2001, May/June). Common myths of children's behaviors. Skeptical Inquirer, 25, 37-39, 44.
Milich, Richard, Mark L. Wolraich, and Scott Lindgren. 1986. Sugar and hyperactivity: A critical review of empirical findinbgs. Clinical Psychology Review 6, no. 6:493-513

1 comment:

  1. I was totally shocked when I read that sugar does not in fact make kids hyper. However, now that I think about it it does make sense. When I was little I was friends with this girl whose mom seriously believed that sugar was the only reason why her daughter acted up. For her school lunch her mom would give her frozen peas and corn and she even yelled at my mom once because my mom let her daughter have grape jelly. Despite never having sugar, my friend would misbehave and have tantrums on a daily basis. She once threw such a fit over not being able to watch what she wanted on TV that the neighbors called child services because they thought her parents beat her. Looking back it was probably not sugar that caused her to misbehave but instead no discipline at home.