I really thought we had moved on from the kind of codswallop I noticed being recycled in the paper last weekend. But apparently not.
In a feeble attempt to encourage higher levels of sugar consumption someone had the hoary old ‘sugar doesn’t make kids hyper’ story dusted off and wheeled out. It is, no doubt, stored next to the ‘chocolate is good for you’ piece that gets regurgitated every Easter.
The article looks at the science and concludes its not the sugar making your kids crazy it’s the food colouring or it’s parents telling the kids they will go nuts and the kids obliging or it’s that it’s an exciting event like a birthday party. In short it’s anything but the sugar.
Dietitian Miriam Raleigh is worried a mistaken belief that sugar makes kids hyper may lead to parents, gasp, limiting their children’s sugar intake. The article even goes on to suggest that doing so may result in the child developing an eating disorder. Miriam decides the solution is to eat sugar in moderation, a phrase that means exactly nothing. Or more precisely and conveniently, means you eat as much as you think is moderate.
So, are we wrong to demonise sugar for its effect on kids? Of course we’re not. It is very bad for them. It causes tooth decay, obesity, type 2 diabetes and kidney disease (at least and its benefits are, well, nothing. So whether it causes hyperactivity is really neither here nor there. Even so, it does.
Sugar is addictive. Like all addictive substances, we crave the dopamine hit it delivers. Each hit increases our tolerance for dopamine until we just can’t focus or function without those dopamine hits. When we have less dopamine than our addicted brain thinks we need, we struggle to focus and we become hyperactive, symptoms that look a lot like ADHD.
Does sugar make our kids more hyperactive immediately after consumption? No. If anything, it is likely to calm them down as they get the dopamine hit they have been craving. Does it create symptoms that look a lot like ADHD in the longer term? Yes, because the dopamine acclimatisation makes us dopamine deficient in between sugar hits. And when we are dopamine deficient, we struggle to hold a coherent thought in our head for even a few seconds. We acquire the attention span of the proverbial gnat and the meditative practices of a Mexican jumping bean.
If we add other sources of dopamine into the mix like gaming or social media, then we can significantly accelerate the effect of sugar. You can probably induce ADHD like symptoms in half the time if the kid is sucking down sugar while shooting his friends on Fortnite.
So no matter how many times you see this sugar is really not that bad chestnut recycled in the local paper, remember just one thing, its nonsense. Sugar is very bad for children (and adults) and it also makes them hyper. And no amount of moderation by dietitians or marketing by the sugar industry will change that.