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If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Parents blaming their kids' active behavior on sugar. But is it true? Hank gives you sweet-and-lowdown on the extent to which sugar can and can't affect behavior, in kids and adults alike.
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[intro music]

If you heard it once you heard it a thousand times: parents blaming their kid's unfortunate behavior on sugar. And if you've been around kids long enough you could probably see why people make that connection: I mean, a healthy and happy five-year-old wakes up perfectly fine, has a good morning and then goes to a birthday party, becomes a shrieking, moody ball of pure energy, and of course it's all from the cake and sugary drinks and ice cream, right? Right?! What else could it be?

 What does science say?

As it turns out it's probably just from hanging out with a bunch of other five-year-old's and then being pulled away to go home and be bored the rest of the day. The kid would probably act the same even if they had no sugar at all. As far as science is concerned there is no evidence that sugar intake makes healthy people more active. Not even children. On the contrary: lots of studies have shown that what looks like sugar-based excitability is really just normal psychological response to a stimulus, i.e. getting a delicious snack.

Several groups of researchers have found that the 'sugar rush' we have often come to associate with candied-up kids, actually exists just in the perceptions of observers, especially parents and other care-givers.

In one double-blind study young boys and their mothers were divided into two groups. One group was told that the boys would be given a sugary drink, and the other was told that they would be given a drink sweetened with aspartame, the sweetener in Equal. But it was a lie! In reality both groups got the artificial sweetener. After enjoying their little drink, the boys and their mothers were told to just play around for a while, and then the mothers were asked how they thought playtime went.

Almost invariably the mothers who thought their sons were given sugar described their behavior more critically than those who thought their sons had been given an artificial sweetener. And maybe even more importantly, neutral observers in the study described the mothers described in the sugar group as hovering more closely around their boys and being more critical or what they were doing, but really both groups of kids were just playing, just being kids.

 A little kernel of truth

Because of studies like this the National Institutes of Health has said that there is no link between sugar intake and hyperactivity in children. But that's not to say that eating loads of sugar can't affect a person's activity level, at least for a little while.

Sugar enters the bloodstream almost immediately after it's eaten, and it can be used if we are currently active. But our bodies are really really good at regulating the amount of sugar in our blood, so almost as soon as it's absorbed it's metabolized or stored, otherwise our blood sugar would be totally nuts, which it is only if we have diabetes.

The sugar intake doesn't cause you to be more active, it only allows for a bit of extra energy if you're burning up a bunch of energy already.

So long story short: sugar is delicious and I'm glad it exists. Like almost anything it can be misused and overused and when that happens it can cause lots of problems. But in the end one thing we can't blame on sugar is our behavior, or that of our kids. With or without sugar, sometimes you just gotta go wild, man.

 Closing notes

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