Sugar Awareness Week: The Effects of Too Much Sugar on Children's Learning

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Believe it or not, sugar doesn’t actually cause children to become hyperactive. That’s right! Although this myth has been closely held by many for a long time, it was proven without a doubt in a 1994 study that sugar has no effect on children’s energy levels. What a relief! Sugar does, however, have several interesting effects on kids’ learning. We all love sweet treats, but it’s important to monitor your children’s sugar intake.

Too much sugar can impede memory skills. Over-consumption of sugar has been proven in multiple studies to decrease memory span by literally “slowing down” the brain’s synaptic activity. Although a candy bar may be tempting before starting homework, some fruits or vegetables (or any healthy snack) will be far more beneficial to the learning process.

Sugar causes cravings. We love sugar because it activates our brain’s pleasure pathways. Sweet treats produce a reward response, and overconsumption can turn this into a cycle of endless cravings. There’s nothing wrong with having a sweet tooth, but keep in mind sugar is still a treat. Feeling hungry is a distracting feeling, especially for kids trying to complete their homework. A healthy snack will keep them satisfied far longer than a chocolate bar!

Too much can cause anxiety. Although the hyperactivity myth isn’t true, “sugar crashes” are a very real phenomenon. Consuming too much sugar causes our brains to constantly release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a large role in our moods and emotions. Too much can deplete these reserves, leading to feelings of anxiety and depression. Teenagers are already dealing with physical and hormonal changes as it is, and studies have shown that they are even more prone to these sugar-related crashes.

Sugar has a long-term effect on learning. A comprehensive study at UCLA showed that a diet high in high-fructose corn syrup literally slowed down the brains of rats. Because of the numerous effects sugar has on brain pathways and neurotransmitters, the scientists in the study concluded that sugar “over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information.”

There’s nothing wrong with having the occasional sweet treat! Rewarding yourself with a candy bar, chocolate, or a piece of cake is a pleasure everyone should take part in. However, it’s still important to remember that your kids’ sugar intake should be moderated. We like sugar because it makes us feel good – but these natural effects can be habit forming and damaging to the learning process. Long-term over-consumption can lead to more serious health problems, like diabetes. For this year’s Sugar Awareness Week, we urge everyone to cut back on sugary foods!

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