Medical professionals and teachers are increasingly creating awareness around sugar as an addictive substance and are highlighting that it is a growing problem among children.
In light of Drug Awareness Week, which ran from June 24 until yesterday, Thursday June 30, Riverside College carried out a class experiment that measured performance and concentration pre and post sugar intake.
The pre-primary, primary and high school, which is based on Burgundy Estate, ran a series of tests to evaluate the impact of sugar on children. “Learners’ results were best before consuming any sugar. Their behaviour became unpredictable shortly after eating sweets and their concentration levels dipped,” Lynne Arbuckle, primary school principal at Riverside College, said.
Studies have shown that sugar does not directly produce hyperactivity, however, changes in blood sugar levels affect the release of adrenaline, which impacts behaviour and performance.
“Parents hold a big responsibility for how and what their children eat. Introduce healthy snacks at home, limit take-away meals and fizzy drinks.
“Not only will your child perform better at school but home life will be easier too – your child’s moods won’t fluctuate based on their cravings,” says Ms Arbuckle.
Quick tips for cutting down cravings:
• Avoid unpredictable meal times: Kids are more likely to snack on high sugar foods when their bodies are accustomed to stocking up in case their next meal does not arrive on time.
• Boost up at breakfast: A wholesome, low-sugar breakfast is key to performance at school. Low GI and high protein breakfasts are great energy boosters that do not require sugar.
• Mix it up: Blend plain yoghurt in to your kids’ favourite flavoured (and sweetened) ones, switch chocolate spread for peanut butter and experiment with flavouring plain treats yourself (with raw cocoa and cinnamon, for example).
How sugar impacts behaviour
Sugar causes a fluctuation of key hormones in the blood. Approximately four hours after eating, blood sugar levels drop and adrenaline kicks in, which drives the urge to eat again. Children are very susceptible to changes in behaviour linked to this hormone, including impulsivity and reduced concentration.
Low GI meals have been shown to reduce the intensity of these changes in blood sugar levels, while sugary ones make them more pronounced.
How sugar becomes addictive
Neurochemical studies have shown that sugar has the same effect on the brain as cocaine – manifesting in sugar tolerance and withdrawal.
Sugar impacts the reward systems in the brain – consumption of too much refined sugar over time numbs the receptors of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is key to satisfaction.
Reduced sensitivity produces sugar tolerance; where more and more sugar is required to reach the same “high”.
When sugar cravings are not met, withdrawal is experienced.