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About "Ask A Scientist!"

On September 17th, 1998 the Ithaca Journal ran its first "Ask A Scientist!" article in which Professor Neil Ashcroft , who was then the director of CCMR, answered the question "What is Jupiter made of?" Since then, we have received over 1,000 questions from students and adults from all over the world. Select questions are answered weekly and published in the Ithaca Journal and on our web site. "Ask A Scientist!" reaches more than 21,000 Central New York residents through the Ithaca Journal and countless others around the world throught the "Ask a Scientist!" web site.

Across disciplines and across the state, from Nobel Prize winning scientist David Lee to notable science education advocate Bill Nye, researchers and scientists have been called on to respond to these questions. For more than seven years, kids - and a few adults - have been submitting their queries to find out the answer to life's everyday questions.

Previous Week's Question Published: 31 May, 2000 Next Week's Question
Sugar does not cause hyperactive behavior
Does sugar make you hyper if you eat a lot of it?

The answer is no, despite the fact that so many people believe this to be true. Many carefully controlled studies have been conducted to test this idea and failed to find any effect of sugar consumption on children's behavior. Why, then do so many people believe that sugar causes hyperactivity in children? One possibility is that parent's beliefs affect what they see. In one recent study, a group of children thought to be "behaviorally sensitive" to sugar were studied. The children were divided into two groups. The mothers of one group were told that their children were given a drink with a lot of sugar. The mothers of the other group were told that their children had been given a drink that did not contain sugar. All children had actually been given a drink sweetened with Nutrasweet. The mothers who thought that their children had had sugar rated them as more hyperactive than the other mothers. These results suggest that parents' and teachers' beliefs about sugar affect their perceptions of children's behavior.

Another possibility is that parents who believe that sugar makes their children hyperactive only allow them to have sugar for special occasions, such as birthday parties or family gatherings. These are occasions where children tend to be somewhat excited and active anyway. Then when the parents see their children being very active and excited, they think that it is due to the sugar. But regardless of the reason for people's erroneous beliefs about this, it is quite clear that sugar does not produce hyperactivity, even when researchers have specifically focused on children with a presumed "sugar sensitivity".