The Effects of Sugar on a Child’s Academic Performance

It’s shocking to note that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average child under 12 consumes 49 pounds of sugar annually. That’s only three pounds less than the average adult despite children being much smaller. All that sugar consumption isn’t helping their overall health, but is it impacting their academic performance? You might be surprised at the answer.

Sugar Decreases Attention Span and Memory

It’s been well documented that sugar activates the brain’s pleasure response, but scientists are discovering that it impacts the brain in a variety of other ways.

When people consume a lot of sugar and then attempt challenging tasks, like math problems, the brain’s hypothalamus allows the body to release a lot of cortisol. Known as the stress hormone, this substance impedes memory. When children’s bodies are flooded with cortisol at school, they struggle to pay attention to their lessons and find it difficult to sit quietly. When their attention is elsewhere, they find it difficult to retain information they’re taught.

Chronic Sugar Consumption Might Permanently Impair Memory Functions

In the short term, sugar consumption will only impair memory temporarily. If children reduce their consumption, they should find that they can reach their actual academic potential. However, studies suggest that overindulging in sugar early may have a long-lasting effect.

Researchers from the University of Southern California fed adult and adolescent rats beverages with sugar levels comparable to that found in ordinary sodas. After a month, the adults showed normal brain function. However, the adolescent rats showed reduced memory and learning capacity. In addition to declined memory levels, these rats also had inflamed hippocampi. This part of the brain is crucial for forming memories and organizing and storing memories.

If sugar can impact young rats in this way, what’s it doing to your child?

Sugary Foods Crowd Out Brain Food

When sugar moves into the digestive tract, it sends a signal to the brain to tell the body that it’s full. So it makes sense that researchers from Pennsylvania State University have found that the more added sugar children consume, the less likely they are to eat healthy brain foods like grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products.

Too often children reach for a fruit-flavored candy, which contains empty calories, over a real piece of fruit, which could improve their cognitive function. They grab a soda from a vending machine instead of choosing memory-enhancing milk. And once they do, they believe they’re so full that they won’t touch the healthy stuff. So, the problem with sugar consumption isn’t just about the sugar itself, but also what children are giving up when they consume it.

What Can You Do?

Limiting your child’s sugar intake is essential for helping them achieve their academic potential. The American Heart Association recommends that children have no more than four teaspoons of sugar a day. Be aware of the hidden sugars hiding in unexpected places like sauces, dried fruits, and flavored yogurts.

Whether your children attend a traditional school or learn online through a program like K12, too much sugar can and will affect their educational outcomes.

Related Articles:

Best Brain Foods & How to Get Your Kids to Eat Them

Why Eating Well Leads to Doing Well in School

Best Breakfasts for Kids’ Brains

Image via Flickr by andy_carter

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