The Influence of Sugar on a Kid's Behavior

By Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell
The effect of sugar on kids is up in the air.
The effect of sugar on kids is up in the air.

The answer to the question of how sugar influences a child's behavior seems to depend on who you ask or in which study you place the most credence. The belief that kids are more apt to be hyperactive if they eat sugar is common but controversial, explains MedlinePlus, a website published by the National Institutes of Health. The fact that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder strongly crave sugar has enforced the notion that sugar consumption can lead to hyperactive behavior in kids.


It's a mistake to assume that kids who eat sugar will automatically become wired up. Although early research suggested an association between high sugar consumption and hyperactivity, several subsequent studies found no concrete evidence that would connect hyperactive behavior to a high-sugar diet, explains, a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The mere assumption that sugar will lead to hyperactivity may influence how a parent interprets his child's conduct. Further research is needed to absolutely rule out that sugar consumption leads to over-the-top energy in kids.

Expert Insight

A South Korean study investigated the connection between sugar consumption and hyperactivity. More than 100 fifth graders completed the four-month-long study from December 2008 to April 2009. Students and teachers completed questionnaires consisting of several food categories including potato chips and cookies, convenience foods like hotdogs, fast food, dairy products, carbonated beverages, juice, bread and sandwiches. Researchers found no evidence to suggest that the development of ADHD is in any way related to eating sugary snacks. The study was published in June 2011 in the journal Nutrition Research and Practice.

Not So Fast

Some kids are sensitive to sugar. Sugar sensitivity can negatively affect behavior, shorten attention spans and impede the ability to learn, in direct proportion to the amount of refined sugar consumed. Adrenaline levels in children skyrocketed to 10 times their normal amount after a test dose of sugar, according to The effects of sugar are more noticeable in younger kids, explains Dr. Keith Conners, author of "Feeding the Brain." The fact that the brain grows quickly during the preschool years may help explain the exaggerated effects of sugar on learning and behavior in younger kids, he added.


The more sugar your child eats, the more sugar she'll crave. A sugary treat or meal spikes blood glucose level, which generates an outburst of insulin. Excess insulin sets off a craving for more sugar. Simple sugars found in soda, candy and packaged snacks can be harmful when a child overindulges. When blood sugar is high, the surplus overflows through the kidneys. As a result, the body makes more urine, which leads to dehydration. In severe cases, hospitalization is required.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.