Effects Of Diets High In Sucrose Or Aspartame On The Behavior And Cognitive Performance Of Children

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Abstract

Background

Both dietary sucrose and the sweetener aspartame have been reported to produce hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children.

Methods

We conducted a double-blind controlled trial with two groups of children: 25 normal preschool children (3 to 5 years of age), and 23 school-age children (6 to 10 years) described by their parents as sensitive to sugar. The children and their families followed a different diet for each of three consecutive three-week periods. One diet was high in sucrose with no artificial sweeteners, another was low in sucrose and contained aspartame as a sweetener, and the third was low in sucrose and contained saccharin (placebo) as a sweetener. All the diets were essentially free of additives, artificial food coloring, and preservatives. The children's behavior and cognitive performance were evaluated weekly.

Results

The preschool children ingested a mean (+/- SD) of 5600 +/- 2100 mg of sucrose per kilogram of body weight per day while on the sucrose diet, 38 +/- 13 mg of aspartame per kilogram per day while on the aspartame diet, and 12 +/- 4.5 mg of saccharin per kilogram per day while on the saccharin diet. The school-age children considered to be sensitive to sugar ingested 4500 +/- 1200 mg of sucrose per kilogram, 32 +/- 8.9 mg of aspartame per kilogram, and 9.9 +/- 3.9 mg of saccharin per kilogram, respectively. For the children described as sugar-sensitive, there were no significant differences among the three diets in any of 39 behavioral and cognitive variables. For the preschool children, only 4 of the 31 measures differed significantly among the three diets, and there was no consistent pattern in the differences that were observed.

Conclusions

Even when intake exceeds typical dietary levels, neither dietary sucrose nor aspartame affects children's behavior or cognitive function. (N Engl J Med 1994;330:301-7.)

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