High-sugar diets can harm kids' physical and mental health, study finds

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Experts say consuming more sugar can lead to hyperactivity and obesity

A new study led by researchers from the Queensland University of Technology explored how kids’ sugar intake can take a toll on their physical and mental health. 

Based on results from a trial conducted on mice, long-term consumption of high-sugar diets can increase the risk of obesity and place a heavier burden on the nervous system. This can ultimately impact attention span, hyperactivity, and decision-making. 

“Our study found long-term sugar consumption (a 12-week period with the mice which started the trial at five weeks of age) at a level that significantly boosts weight gain, elicits an abnormal and excessive stimulation of the nervous system in response to novelty,” said researcher Selena Bartlett. “It also alters both episodic and spatial memory. These results are like those reported in attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.” 

Maintaining healthy sugar levels

The researchers examined mice to see if long-term sugar consumption impacted health and wellness. The study began when the mice were five weeks old; one group consumed an unlimited amount of sugar, and the other group was on a sugar-restricted diet. The researchers also conducted behavioral and memory assessments throughout the study to see if these diets affected mental health.

The team found that the mice that consumed large quantities of sugar gained significantly more weight than the mice on the more restricted diet plan. They found that weight gain began roughly four weeks into the trial, though this may be different when thinking about human children. 

The researchers also learned that sugar was associated with many of the symptoms that are indicative of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They found that the mice with high-sugar diets had a harder time with impulse control when presented with food and were more likely to struggle with staying still. 

These findings are important because they highlight how kids can be affected by their diets from a young age. The researchers stated that maintaining healthy sugar levels from childhood can help kids stay on the right track as they grow into adolescence and adulthood. 

“It is increasingly considered that unrestricted consumption of high-sugar food and beverages within the Western Diet might be linked to the obesity epidemic,” Bartlett said. “A strong association between attention-deficits/hyperactivity disorders and being overweight and obese have also been revealed.”