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Surprise: Sugar Doesn't Make Kids Hyper

Posted by Josh Rothman  November 2, 2011 08:24 AM

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It's a truth universally acknowledged -- and, for parents everywhere, verified this past weekend -- that a child in possession of sugar will turn into a hyperactive maniac. And yet, according to Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and journalist, the whole idea that sugar makes kids hyper has no basis in fact. Writing at the excellent blog The Incidental Economist, Carroll points out an incredible fact: In twelve studies trying to link sugar to hyper-ness in kids, none have detected differences in behavior between kids who've eaten sugar and kids who haven't.

Carroll is particularly struck by one study:

In my favorite of these studies, children were divided into two groups. All of them were given a sugar-free beverage to drink. But half the parents were told that their child had just had a drink with sugar.  Then, all of the parents were told to grade their children’s behavior.  Not surprisingly, the parents of children who thought their children had drunk a ton of sugar rated their children as significantly more hyperactive.

The link between sugar and hyper behavior, Carroll writes, is "entirely in parents' heads"; it's reinforced by the fact that kids are often given sugar on occasions which are already exciting, like Halloween or a birthday party. More (including numerous references) at The Incidental Economist.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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