Does sugar make kids hyperactive?

Although many believe that sugars can lead to hyperactivity and other behavioural problems in children, several comprehensive scientific reviews have concluded that no evidence exists to link sugars to hyperactivity in children or those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (1). Researchers have suggested that occasional bouts of excess energy among healthy children may be linked to the excitement associated with special activities like parties, holiday celebrations and recess, not the sweets or other foods served at these events.

Can someone be "addicted" to certain foods?

The pleasures of eating certain foods, such as those containing sugars, should not be confused with the term “addiction”. Humans naturally prefer the taste of sweetness. In fact, the preference for a sweet taste is present from birth; breastmilk is sweet due to its lactose content.

Enjoying foods, like other pleasurable activities such as exercising and laughing, can stimulate a rewarding response in the brain (for example, the secretion of dopamine, which plays a role in the feeling of pleasure). This response is not specific to sugars and is not the same as an addiction. Evidence suggests sugar does not cause physical dependence or produce the effects of tolerance and withdrawal that is characteristic of an addictive substance (2). 

Does the sweet taste of sugar encourage people to over-eat?

A natural liking for foods rich in carbohydrates (starches and sugars) was inherited from our ancestors as sweetness indicated a food was safe to consume. Although our appetite for sweet taste is with us from birth, findings have been inconsistent between sweet preference, overeating, or overweight/obesity (3). 

To learn more about sugars and behaviour, visit our webpages: Sugars and Appetite and Food Intake, and Sugars and Cognition; or download our resources:  

  1. Wolraich ML, Wilson DB, White JW. The Effect of Sugar on Behavior or Cognition in Children. A Meta-analysis. JAMA. 1995;274(20):1617-1621.
  2. Benton D. The plausibility of sugar addiction and its role in obesity and eating disorders. Clin Nutr. 2010;29(3):288–303.
  3. Iatridi V, Armitage RM, Yeomans MR, Hayes JE. Effects of Sweet-Liking on Body Composition Depend on Age and Lifestyle: A Challenge to the Simple Sweet-Liking—Obesity Hypothesis. Nutrients. 2020;12(9):2702.