Researchers Debunk Widely Believed Holiday Myths

Researchers reveal the truth behind six widely held seasonal misconceptions.

ByABC News
December 17, 2008, 5:28 PM

Dec. 17, 2008— -- Holiday season is almost here. But as you finish up your holiday errands, make sure to cut down on the late-night meals, wear a hat anytime you're outdoors to keep from losing half your body heat and keep your kids from eating too much sugar.

Or are those just myths?

With the year's end arriving, the British Medical Journal asked two physicians take a look at some of those old adages that everyone repeats each holiday season. Looking at six of these, the doctors found that some might have reasons behind them, but found no solid backing after a large number of studies.

"We're trying to just show that it's important for us to examine commonly held beliefs," said Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine. "There's good science to show that these beliefs are incorrect, that they're myths, and yet many people still believe them."

This was the second straight year that Carroll and his colleague, Dr. Rachel C. Vreeman, took a look at some holiday myths for the journal.

While stressing that most of the myths are not harmful, Carroll said they may cause people to change their behavior unnecessarily.

"Some of it's not a good idea, and some of it is perfectly good to question," he said.

Here are the six myths they looked at, which they and other doctors hope to dispell:

Carroll and Vreeman noted in their article that 12 separate trials failed to show any difference in children's behavior after consuming sugar, even those with ADHD and other conditions considered "sensitive" to sugar.

"I probably get more questions about that than almost anything else," said Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian and an associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who was not involved with the writing of the article.

"While sugar can give a quick burst of energy, " he said, "it doesn't cause hyperactivity and there are tons of studies to show this."

Ayoob said the myth exists for not only sugar, but food dyes as well.

Carroll and Vreeman also note that parents appear to be sensitive to this myth, as studies they looked at showed that parents would rate their children as being more hyperactive if the children had just eaten sugar, even if the child's behavior was not different.

Ayoob notes that sugar gets too much credit for its effects.

"If it were that easy to get a buzz, adults would be popping hard candy all day long," he said.

But that doesn't mean parents shouldn't limit their children's sugar intake, because a lot of the sugar kids want isn't healthy.

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"I don't think kids should be given huge amounts of sugar by any means," said Ayoob, "but let's not attribute more to sugar than is really there."