Every Tuesday on the Woot blog, writer and professional ex- Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings puts on his Debunker hat and takes at aim much-believed morsels of information that feel so true... but are really all wrong. This month, to celebrate Halloween and the inevitable candy-gorging orgy (gorgy?) that ensues, Ken will debunk four myths about sweets and desserts of all kinds. These treats, it turns out, are full of tricks.
Sweet Myth #3: Sugar Makes Kids Hyperactive
“I can hear your heart racing from here,” observes Calvin’s pet tiger Hobbes, as the comic strip menace dives into a second bowl of Chocolate Frosted Crunchy Sugar Bombs. “They make these with marshmallow bits, too, but Mom won’t buy them for me,” replies Calvin.
It’s the myth of the “sugar high”—the idea that sugary candy, sodas, and cereals cause kids to bounce off the walls like little SuperBalls. This dates back to the Feingold Diet of the 1970s, in which California allergist Ben Feingold first recommended treating hyperactivity in children by avoiding food additives like artificial colors and sweeteners. Feingold didn’t ban all sugar, but it became a popular target for parental crackdowns anyway.
A number of recent studies, however, have soured doctors on the possible linkage. Sugar doesn’t really wind kids up, they now believe—it’s just that many of the occasions on which kids eat lots of sugar, like birthday parties and holidays, tend to be chaotic anyway. A revealing 1994 experiment by Daniel Hoover and Richard Milich put the blame for this myth squarely on the parents’ shoulders: they showed that moms and dads were much more likely to classify their kids’ behavior as hyper when told that the kids had just gotten buzzed on sugar. (In reality, the kids were drinking a sugar-free placebo.)
Some research has even found that sugar has a calming effect on younger kids. Maybe Calvin just needed a third bowl of Chocolate Frosted Crunchy Sugar Bombs to settle down that racing heartbeat.
Quick Quiz: What ginormous stadium is home every year to college football’s Sugar Bowl?
Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and the forthcoming Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.
Photo: Sugar Rush by Flickr member tribalicious. Used under a Creative Commons License.