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Back to Health Concerns

Milk Products and Hyperactivity in Children

It is advised that children with hyperactive behaviour, just like other children, consume the recommended intake of milk and milk products.

Highlights

  • Milk and milk products have not been associated with hyperactivity in children;
  • Nutrition guidelines advise that children with hyperactivity disorder consume the usual recommended intake of milk and milk products;
  • There is some evidence that milk products may be associated with better learning and behaviour in children who are hyperactive.

The effect of certain foods and nutrients on children's behaviour remains controversial. The evidence from studies, including a meta-analysis, indicates that there is no association between particular diet components like sugar or milk products and hyperactive behaviour in children.1,2

Milk and milk products are in fact recommended as part of a healthy diet for children who are hyperactive.

In terms of chocolate milk specifically, data available to date do not indicate a link with hyperactivity in children.

For more information on chocolate milk, read the Expert Summary article, Chocolate Milk: Improving Diet Quality for Children and Adolescents.

Facts on Diet and Hyperactivity

It has been suggested that hyperactivity in children could be the result of food allergies or sensitivities. Elimination or “oligoantigenic” diets have been investigated as a means to improve symptoms in hyperactive children. These diets are devoid of possible food allergens and are highly restrictive with regard to a number of foods, such as eggs, nuts, wheat cereals and milk products. However, there is poor evidence that elimination diets are effective in treating hyperactivity.

Additionally, the possibility of the parental placebo effect should be considered. The perceived association between the consumption of certain foods and a child's hyperactive behaviour is often driven by parental expectations. Parents may also perceive that eliminating certain foods from the diet has a favourable effect on their child’s behaviour. However, a child’s behaviour is in fact likely to be context-driven and due to a change in environment.3

The Evidence

In a 2011 narrative review, nutritional recommendations were provided for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The importance of good eating behaviour was highlighted, including the consumption of nutritious foods such as milk products, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and legumes. As advised for other children, the recommended intake of milk and milk products was also emphasized as part of a healthy diet for hyperactive children.4

A randomized controlled trial was conducted among children aged 4 to 8 years with ADHD to assess the effects of diet on behaviour. Although the study concluded that a restricted elimination diet was advantageous for children with ADHD, the study was found to have numerous limitations. These include flaws in study design and the interpretation of results as well as the presence of a placebo effect and biases.5,6

In a recent 2012 cross-sectional study of 986 school-aged Korean children, various dietary behaviours were investigated with respect to learning disabilities and ADHD.7

  • A balanced diet, regular meals, and a high intake of milk products and vegetables were associated with fewer learning issues and attention and behavioural problems;
  • The consumption of milk products was associated with better learning and lower delinquent behaviour scores in both unadjusted and adjusted analyses;
  • Regular consumption of milk products, compared to infrequent consumption, appeared to be more beneficial against ADHD, with an odds ratio of 0.30 (95% CI: 0.12-0.72, p = 0.007).

Potential Mechanisms

There is a lack of evidence regarding the role that milk and milk products may have in behaviour and learning.

It has been suggested that milk product consumption may favourably impact learning, as whey protein and calcium have been associated with improved glucose regulation. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that alpha-lactalbumin in whey protein may increase serotonin levels, which in turn has a beneficial effect on mood and cognition.7 However, further research must be conducted to validate these hypotheses.

Conclusion

The evidence to date indicates that milk and milk products are not associated with hyperactivity in children.

Like other children, children with hyperactivity also benefit from a diet that includes the recommended intake of milk and milk products.

Further research is needed to clarify whether milk and milk products are associated with improved behaviour in children with hyperactivity.

References

  1. Kim Y and Chang H. Correlation between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sugar consumption, quality of diet, and dietary behavior in school children. Nutr Res Pract 2011;5(3):236-45.
  2. Wolraich ML et al. The effect of sugar on behavior or cognition in children. A meta-analysis. JAMA 1995;274(20):1617-21.
  3. Cormier E and Elder JH. Diet and child behavior problems: fact or fiction? Pediatr Nurs 2007;33(2):138-43.
  4. Labuschagne IL et al. Basic nutrition and additional requirements for children who are diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prof Nurs Today 2012;16(6):16-8.
  5. Mullins RJ et al. Restricted elimination diet for ADHD. Lancet 2011;377(9777):1567.
  6. Poulton AS et al. Restricted elimination diet for ADHD. Lancet 2011;377(9777):1567-8.
  7. Park S et al. Association between dietary behaviors and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities in school-aged children. Psychiatry Res 2012;198(3):468-76.

Keywords: sugar , hyperactivity , chocolate milk


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