Modern Mythology

Modern Mythology: Sugar Rush

Modern Mythology is a Teen Skepchick feature in which we try to cut through the woo so you can make informed decisions. If you have any questions, contact us here.

My younger brother and I are pretty close. When we were very young, I would read him stories until he and I both fell asleep. This was a regular occurrence. I would usually wake up later in the night and crawl into my own bed. One night, my grandpa let my brother eat lots – lots – of M&Ms. But we went to bed as usual. We fell asleep while I read my brother stories. Except this time my brother woke up before me and got sick all over my head. My head!

I don’t tell you this story to gross you out or embarrass my brother (although the latter might be a fortunate side effect), but to illustrate a point. My brother vomited on my head, but he did not start bouncing off the walls.

My brother is not some sort of super human sugar tolerance machine. The fact is that, despite widespread belief to the contrary, sugar does not make children hyper.

According to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, a high-sugar diet will not induce hyperactive behavior in children. This 1996 study says:

Although sugar is widely believed by the public to cause hyperactive behavior, this has not been scientifically substantiated. Twelve double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of sugar challenges failed to provide any evidence that sugar ingestion leads to untoward behavior in children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or in normal children. Likewise, none of the studies testing candy or chocolate found any negative effect of these foods on behavior.

In other words, sugar has little effect on children’s behavior. A 2008 study came to a similar conclusion.

Despite all the evidence, why does this myth persist? According to the Cornell Center for Materials Research, one reason is that parents’ preconceived ideas about sugar color how they see their children’s behavior. If they think their children have had a lot of sugar, they are more likely to think their kids are hyperactive.

Confirmation bias!

A second possible reason for the persistence of this myth is that parents tend to only allow their children lots of sugar on special occasions, like birthday parties, where there are sugar-filled foods. Kids tend to be excited at special events anyway (heck, I tend to be excited at special events!) and parents think this is caused by sugar rather than the situation.

But science doesn’t lie. And right now, there is really no evidence to suggest that sugar causes kids to go bonkers.

Featured image credit: Le Melody

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Mindy is an attorney and Managing Editor of Teen Skepchick. She hates the law and loves stars. You can follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


  1. September 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm —

    This was such a relief to me when I learned it. Now I don’t worry and just let him eat as much sugar as he wants… no, wait, that can’t be right?

    Actually we limit sugar and have explained that it’s not good to fill up on things that don’t provide any good nutrition.

    When we WANT him to go bonkers we just tell him he has to sit quietly on the couch. Works like a charm. 😛

    • September 12, 2011 at 8:30 pm —

      Ha, yeah. I guess I should note that sugar isn’t awesome for you. It just won’t make you go crazy. But it will possibly make you throw up all over my head.

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