Bouncing off the walls. It’s pretty much the only way to describe the frenetic energy you might notice in your kiddo after the second, or third, slice of cake at a birthday party. But get this: studies show that there’s actually no link between sugar and hyperactivity in kids, says Chicago-based registered dietician Amanda Baker Lemein, MS, RD.
Surprised? You’re not alone—most parents assume extra sugar provides kids a quick dose of kooky, but a number of double blind, placebo-controlled studies (the best kind) done over the years haven’t found a relationship between sugar and hyperactive behavior, inattention, or changes in cognitive performance in kids. There’s no relationship between sugar intake and behavior issues in kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD either, says pediatrician Margaret Chapman, MD, from One Medical in NYC.
So what exactly is happening, then, if it’s not the cake? It’s more likely the environment your kiddo is in—a loud birthday party, a competitive Easter egg hunt—is causing the excitement (and, uh, chaos before bed) than that 11th chocolate bunny. And since kids love sweets, it’s likely they’re simply hyped to be indulging in another handful of jellybeans as opposed to broccoli. Plus: “Eating a large dose of any simple carbohydrate (like sugar) means a large spike in blood glucose, resulting in increased energy,” says Lemein. But due to the rapid breakdown of these simple carbs, this leads to the dreaded blood glucose “crash” later. (Which may explain your kind of lethargic, grump tot on the car ride home.)
Also at play: “Many experts suspect parents anticipate their children to become more hyperactive when consuming sugar, and therefore, perceive this increase in activity to take place—whether it actually is or not,” says Lemein. (In other words, when we’re on the lookout for a hyper child, we’re more likely to find one.)
Bouncing off the walls or not, there’s plenty of other reasons to avoid a sugar bender—too much of the sweet stuff is associated with obesity, diabetes, and other health problems like cavities, especially if it’s replacing nutritious foods on the reg. And if your kiddo anecdotally has a meltdown every single time you cave on the second dessert, nixing it for a healthy snack is certainly worth a shot for your sanity—science or not.