The findings have implications for school success and lend support to existing recommendations to limit the amount of sweetened beverages schoolchildren drink.
The study, published in the journal Academic Pediatrics, also recommends that children avoid energy drinks, which in addition to high levels of sugar also often contain caffeine.
For the study, researchers surveyed 1,649 middle-school students randomly selected from a single urban school district in Connecticut.
Boys are more likely to consume energy drinks than girls. Further, black and Hispanic boys are more likely to drink those beverages than their white peers. The average age of the student participants was 12.4 years old. The study controlled for the number and type of other sugar-sweetened drinks consumed.
“As the total number of sugar-sweetened beverages increased, so too did risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms among our middle-school students. Importantly, it appears that energy drinks are driving this association,” says professor Jeannette Ickovics, director of CARE (Community Alliance for Research and Engagement) at the Yale University School of Public Health.
“Our results support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that parents should limit consumption of sweetened beverages and that children should not consume any energy drinks.”
While more research is needed to better understand the effects and mechanisms linking sweetened beverages and hyperactivity, previous research has shown a strong correlation between children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and poor academic outcomes, greater difficulties with peer relationships, and increased susceptibility to injuries.
These associations are understudied among minority children, Ickovics says, and previous research has suggested under-diagnosis of ADHD in black and Hispanic children.
Some sugar-sweetened beverages and energy drinks that are popular with students contain up to 40 grams of sugar. Students in the current study consumed on average two sugared drinks per day, with a range of zero to seven or more drinks. Health experts recommend that children consume a maximum of 21 to 33 grams of sugar daily (depending on age).
In addition to hyperactivity and inattention, heavily sugared beverages also impact childhood obesity and sugar-sweetened beverages are a leading cause of added calories in the diets of obese children. Currently, about one-third of American schoolchildren are considered overweight or obese.
Researches from CARE, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and the New Haven Public Schools coauthored the study.
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