Sunday, March 13, 2022

Sugar Sweetened Beverages And Academic Performance

As many of you who work with me or read my books know, I read the nutrition research every month in an effort to stay on top of any important new studies. Occasionally, I come across a study that seems so important that I need to write a Feature Article on it. That happened just recently (Reference 1).

The Study

In this fascinating study, 4,245 Australian school children between the ages of 8 and 15 years had their sugar sweetened beverage consumption measured. The researchers also had access to the student’s academic standardized testing scores.

When comparing the students who consumed less than 1 glass of sugar sweetened beverage per day to those consuming 4-6 glasses:

 -Grammar scores were 6% higher

 -Reading scores were 9% higher

 -Writing scores were 6% higher

 -Math scores were 7% higher

Conclusions And Recommendations

This is a very powerful study that demonstrates some of the hidden dangers of eating high glycemic carbs, such as sugar. Most parents think of sugar as nutritionally empty calories. If their kids are at a healthy weight and are eating well for the most part, adding a whole bunch of sugar each day is not considered a big deal.

It kind of is a big deal. The health risks of sugar have been shown in the research literature over the past few decades. Sugar consumption has been associated with obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers. Emerging evidence shows it can even impact how your brain works. 

So, why would consuming a lot of sugar impact your academic performance? There are several possible mechanisms:

-High sugar consumption often causes a reactive hypoglycemia which results in low blood sugar after a few hours. Low blood sugar can negatively impact energy levels, which may make it harder to pay attention in class and perform on exams.

-Swings in blood sugar can also impact mood. If you are feeling anxious or depressed, it is much harder to pay attention and perform well in school.

-In this paper the authors theorize that sugar may actually have a negative impact on cognitive function. They propose that a high sugar consumption may cause cognitive dysfunction through hippocampal and frontal lobe volume loss and dysfunction.

It is a good idea to limit sugar consumption in your children for lots of reasons. We can add academic performance to the list. I also don’t think that this is limited to children. I would argue that work performance in adults is similarly affected. The recommendation is simple: Strictly limit sugar. Better yet, give it up entirely. This is certainly not easy to do at first but it will change your life and your health.


1) Burrows T et al, Association between selected dietary behaviors and academic achievement. A study of Australian school aged children. Appetite 2017; 116:372-80.

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