It’s late August and you can feel the flurry of back to school activity everywhere. For some it’s a relief and for others it means stress. High school students are faced with all kinds of demands, from academics and college prep, to sports, band …. and from their peers. From what to wear, what not to wear, what to say, who to hang with, it’s all a stress on the brain. So why add sugar to an already stressed brain?


In the 1980s studies ruled out sugar as a cause of ADHD. However, more recent studies have taken a second look considering how much added sugars the Standard American Diet (SAD) contains. Added sugars are defined as sugars and syrups that are added to foods during processing or preparation.


Many fast snacks available to high school students are soft drinks, cakes, cookies, pies, fruit drinks, fruit punch, athletic drinks, dairy desserts and candy, all of which are primary sources of “added sugar”. In 2013, the average American drank just over 38 gallons of soda a year — or about eight 12-ounce cans a week. A typical 12-ounce can of regular cola contains nearly 9 teaspoons of added sugars; a 20-ounce bottle contains 15.5 teaspoons of sugars. While researchers don’t deny the part genetics can play, so far research has show that the genetic link can account for only a small percentage of ADHD cases.


Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Diisorder (ADHD) is diagnosed by specific criteria including hyperactivity, inattention, and inability to focus, becoming distracted easily and making careless errors. Other features include impulsiveness, emotional lability (instability), fidgeting, and excessive talking. Identifying the cause of ADHD is important for developing better ways to prevent and treat the disorder.


Researchers in 2016 looked at school-aged children with a diagnosis of ADHD and their intake of Sweet Sugar Beverages (SSB). They recruited a total of 332 childrend, 172 with ADHD and 159 without. The results showed the ADHD children consumed significantly more servings of SSBs than those without ADHD. This indicated a relationship between ADHD and SSB consumption. The risk of ADHD increased by 48% for children who consumed 1–6 servings/week of SSBs, compared to those who consumed fewer SSBs. Their conclusion: “We observed that children with higher SSB consumption had a greater risk of having ADHD.”


The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. Therefore, just a single 12-ounce can of sugar sweetened soda meets the recommended daily sugar intake for men, and exceeds the recommended limit for women. A 20-ounce can exceeds the limits for both men and women.


The research went on to recommend that school programs limit the availability of SSBs in schools to promote healthy eating behaviors among youth. As parents shouldn’t we do the same?


Jim Runnels is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor and advocate of evidence-based education and supporter of the health benefits of a whole food plant-based, active lifestyle, to achieve optimal health. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.