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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Yale Finds Hyperactivity, Inattention Pronounced in Schoolchildren who Consume Heavily Sweetened Energy Drinks

Middle school children who consume heavily sweetened energy drinks are 66 percent more likely to be at risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms, a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health has found.

[Photo: Dr. Jeannette Ickovics]

The finding has implications for school success and lends support to existing recommendations to limit the amount of sweetened beverages schoolchildren drink. The authors also recommend that children avoid energy drinks, which in addition to high levels of sugar also often contain caffeine. The study is published today in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

The research team, led by Professor Dr. Jeannette Ickovics, director of the CARE (Community Alliance for Research and Engagement) at the School of Public Health, surveyed 1,649 middle school student randomly selected from a single urban school district in Connecticut.

They found the boys were more likely to consume energy drinks than girls and that Black and Hispanic boys were more likely to drink the 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,” said Dr. Ickovics. “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 behind sweetened beverages and hyperactivity, previous research has shown a strong correlation between children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) having poorer academic outcomes, more difficulties with peer relationships and are more prone to injuries compared to their peers. These associations are understudied among minority children, 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.  The students in this study consumed on average two sugared drinks per day, with a range of zero to seven or more drinks. Children should 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. Sugar sweetened beverages are the leading cause of added calories. Currently, about one-third of American schoolchildren are considered overweight or obese.

The study was co-authored by other researchers from CARE, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and the New Haven Public Schools.