Boo! When the Sugar Monster Rears His Ugly Head: Is There a Link Between Sugar, Additives and Bad Behavior?

Posted October 31, 2008 by

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OK, I’ll admit it: Halloween scares me. The sheer amount of candy, sugar and neon dyes my son consumes in one night is enough to give me the shivers, because I know what’s coming next: crazed, wild-eyed, uncontrollable behavior. Although it still hasn’t been proven conclusively, I am convinced that too much sugar, along with all the food additives, worsens behavior. And I don’t think I’m alone in this — what parent hasn’t seen their child bouncing off the walls like a superball after eating a pack of Skittles? (You may have also heard about the study that came out last year in England that said that kids’ hyperactive behavior, especially those with ADHD or ADD, increases when they consume common food dyes and additives.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween as much as the next person and am definitely a fan of chocolate and candy myself, but I also have to admit that I dread the ginormous haul of loot that comes home with my son. My in-laws think I’m crazy for saying this — they tend to hand my son candy, cookies, and treats like they’re senior crack dealers on a mission. They can’t understand why he starts whizzing around the room and screaming incoherently like the Tasmanian Devil about 10 minutes after consuming these goodies. So far, it’s been impossible to get them to realize that yes, sugar and food dyes make Alex into a crazy, howling mini-werewolf.

Last Halloween was the validation of all my fears.  One night about a week after the holiday, I got a call from my sister-in-law in Virginia. As is my habit, I went to hide in the bedroom so we could actually talk. My son was happily watching a video, so I thought I had at least a good 30 minutes to catch up on the phone. What I’d forgotten was that Alex’s Halloween candy bag was still out on the counter…and there was a very large box full of styrofoam peanuts in the living room. By the time I came out a half an hour later, there was a trail of Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers leading directly to the (now empty) box of peanuts. Alex had spread every last little white plastic thing around the living room, mostly (as I heard him tell it, and then demonstrate) by jumping into the box repeatedly from the sofa.  Have you ever seen the effect of static electricity on said peanuts?  They were stuck EVERYwhere — to the rug, the furniture, his fleece pajamas, his hair…I even found some clinging to the walls like little white styrofoam caterpillars. One year later, and I’m still finding them on the undersides of the couch.

But this year it’s going to be different. I’m going to limit his sugar intake, offer him an apple instead of a Milky Way when he brings in his haul. (Yeah, right.) So here we go, another Halloween and another sugar bath for the kids. Be afraid, parents…be very afraid.

What do you think? Have you seen sugar or food dyes affect your child’s behavior? Or is this a bunch of hogwash concocted by neurotic, candy-phobic parents?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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