How High Sugar Intake May Affect Cognitive Development in Children

Rachel Yeoh
sugar intake for children

There is a strong belief amongst mums, especially in social media, that high sugar intake amongst young children could lead to hyperactivity and a lack of appetite.

What is hyperactivity?

Hyperactivity means an increase in movement, impulsive action and being easily distracted. Refined (processed) sugars may have some effect on children’s activity. Refined sugars and carbohydrates enter the bloodstream quickly. When this happens, it may cause rapid changes in blood sugar levels and make a child seem ‘extra active’.

Mummies, does this sound familiar to you with your children?

Whether it is a yes or no, there is one more red light blinking with regards to added sugar intake in children.

Did you know that there is a far more detrimental, long-term impact of high sugar in children?

Sugar affects the development of growing up children.

Yes, we said it, and to know the reason why, you must continue reading.


High Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage

Sugar-sweetened beverages, also known as SSBs are readily available everywhere. It comes in a set when you order at famous fast food joints, it is in boxed juices and soft drinks—stuff that toddlers and preschoolers love to drink.

We suppose your child loves them too. Don’t they all come with a sweet tooth?

According to a study on the correlation of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption of Malaysian preschoolers aged 3 to 6 years, a large proportion of preschool-aged children in Malaysia was found to consume SSBs every week (Foo et al, 2020).

The research involved 590 Malay and Chinese preschoolers, made up of 317 boys and 273 girls. From that total, almost 54% of them are reported to be consuming SSBs per week, a pattern similar to countries like the United States that document high sugar consumption.

SSBs includes drinks that may appear as good choice for consumer such as energy drinks, malt drinks, and even milk-based beverages! On top of SSBs, there are also their favourite sweets. Think doughnuts, cookies, ice cream, cake and waffles – they all contain a lot of sugar.

So imagine for a bit—if they are already eating sugar-laden food that sometimes can be difficult to control, parents may be unknowingly topping it up with more sugar whenthey offer them SSBs.

Now, that is dangerous.


Image credit: Anmum™ ESSENTIAL


Effects of High Sugar Intake

Image credit: Anmum™ ESSENTIAL


High sugar diets have been shown to impair learning and memory.

And in a society that puts a lot of emphasis on education, this is bad news.

A human study on high fat and sugar intake showed evidence that it impaired hippocampal-dependent learning and memory and increased dependency on high-sugar foods (Attuquayefio et al, 2016).

Before you get dizzy over these science-y jargons, let’s learn a little about the biology of the brain: Humans have two hippocampi, located on each side of the brain. Together, they are called the hippocampus. It consolidates information from the short-term memory to the long-term.

A study showed that sugar reduces this process called hippocampal neurogenesis, which is important to minimise disturbance of the merging of information and memories in those two lobes. (Beecher et al, 2021)

Have you ever had someone disturb your chain of thought and then you can’t remember what you were thinking before that interruption?

Sugar is like that irritating someone disturbing the process of storing information in the brain.

With more sugar, comes more disturbances that can affect retaining memory. Therefore, hippocampal-dependent forms of learning and memory are particularly at risk of the detrimental effects of the high fat and high sugar diets. The initial study was first identified in rats (Molteni et al, 2002) but has since been proven to apply to humans (Attuquayefio et al, 2016).

Hence, chill out on the sugar intake to avoid possibilities of detrimental effects on memory and learning.

Image credit: Anmum™ ESSENTIAL


Pendawaian Semula Otak untuk Perkembangan Anak-anak


Jika sesetengah daripada Mama bimbang bahawa anak Mama mungkin mengambil terlalu banyak gula daripada yang Mama selesa, Mama masih boleh membuat perubahan sebelum terlambat. 

Yang paling penting ialah dengan mengeluarkan makanan yang tinggi gula daripada diet anak Mama. Satu kajian menunjukkan bahawa asid lemak berantai panjang omega-3, asid Dokosaheksanoik (DHA) boleh meningkatkan fungsi otak pada kanak-kanak (Kuratko et al, 2013).


Satu lagi nutrien yang boleh membantu ialah Gangliosida (GA®).


Buat pengetahuan Mama, Gangliosida (GA®) membantu membentuk hubungan sel-sel otak untuk pembelajaran dan pembentukan memori dan ia sama penting dengan asid Dokosaheksanoik (DHA), asid lemak omega-3 yang penting untuk perkembangan otak semasa peringkat awal kanak-kanak (Palmano et al., 2015).


Kredit gambar: Anmum™ ESSENTIAL


According to Xu & Zhu, 2005, as cited in Palmano et al., 2015, oral ganglioside treatment improved the neurological symptoms associated with cerebral palsy, in particular muscle tension, limb function, language ability and intelligence. Faster improvement was observed with younger children up to three years old (Palmano et al, 2015).

Where Do You Find Gangliosides (GA®)?


Milk Fat Globule Membrane (MFGM) contains these Gangliosides (GA®) and phospholipids (Lee et al, 2018).

According to a Malaysian study, growing-up milk products is the major contributors to dietary ganglioside intake in toddlers in the country. Smaller quantities of ganglioside were consumed from other dietary sources such as chicken, egg yolk and fish (Khor et al, 2016).

That is why it is important to choose growing up milk that does not include added sugars but also MFGM+Gangliosides (GA®).

So, does that mean that any milk will do?

Um, not really.

Take note – WHO recommended that not more than 10% of total energy should be from free sugar intake for a whole day, not just in milk.
At first, the study intended to derive information on sugar content according to the nutritional label. However, the information was not labelled as ‘sugar’, ‘free sugar’ or any form of ‘monosaccharide’ or ‘disaccharide’. Instead, terms like ‘carbohydrate’, ‘sugar’, ‘fibre’ and ‘starch’ constituents are used (Bakri et al, 2019).

Image credit: Anmum™ ESSENTIAL


Therefore, no added sucrose may not mean that there are no added sugars as it can exist in other forms such as Lactose (if it is found in the ingredient listing), Corn Syrup Solids, Glucose Syrup Solid and Dextrose.

So, imagine if they consume daily meals that contain rice (that also has sugar) and carrots (also with a little sugar), then when it is snack time they have a cookie or two, and then milk with added sugar – my oh my, their body will experience a sugar overload!

Therefore, when choosing milk, be sure that the sugar levels are much lower than the recommended sugar intake by WHO, because with your child’s daily meals, their sugar intake may be well above the 10% daily recommendation.

The Essentials in Anmum™ ESSENTIAL

Currently, Anmum™ ESSENTIAL is the only^ brand with MFGM-Gangliosides-DHA with No Added Sugars** in Malaysia.

It is also scientifically formulated with Prebiotic (Inulin) and 15 key nutrients such as high Calcium, high Protein, Zinc and Vitamin D to help support the nutritional needs of a growing up child.

Image credit: Anmum™ ESSENTIAL


While Anmum™ ESSENTIAL is an established brand in Malaysia, many first-time mothers are not aware of the benefits a child would get. Made with milk powder from New Zealand and backed by 90+ years of research in the Fonterra New Zealand R&D centre, Anmum™ ESSENTIAL is scientifically formulated to help support the nutritional needs of growing up children aged one to six.

Anmum™ ESSENTIAL is laser-focused on supporting children’s growth and development.

Get your Anmum™ ESSENTIAL samples at or get full-sized ones at today!

^Referring to the product label of major brands of formulated milk powder for children.
**Sucrose, Glucose Syrup Solid, Corn Syrup Solid, Brown Sugar, Dextrose, Lactose, Fructose, Honey and White Sugar are defined as ‘sugars’ and ‘added sugars’ under CODEX Standard 212-1999 and CAC/GL23-1997. CODEX develops harmonised international food standards guidelines and code of practices. Under Malaysia Food Regulations 1985, Sucrose, Brown Sugar, Dextrose, Glucose, Fructose, Honey are defined as sweetening substances.


Foo, L. H., Lee, Y. H., Suhaida, C. Y., & Hills, A. P. (2020). Correlates of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption of Malaysian preschoolers aged 3 to 6 years. BMC Public Health, 20,552.

Attuquayefio, T., Stevenson, R. J., Boakes, R. A., Oaten, M. J., & Yeomans, M. R. (2016). A high-fat high-sugar diet predicts poorer Hippocampal-Related Memory and a Reduced Ability to Suppress Wanting Under Satiety. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 42(4), 415-428.

Beecher, K., Alvarez Cooper, I., Wang, J., Walters, S. B., Chehrehasa, F., Bartlett, S. E., & Belmer, A. (2021). Long-term overconsumption of sugar starting at adolescence produces persistent hyperactivity and neurocognitive deficits in adulthood. Frontiers in Neuroscience15.

Molteni, R., Barnard, R. J., Ying, Z., Roberts, C. K., & Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2002). A high-fat, refined sugar diet reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor, neuronal plasticity, and learning. Neuroscience, 112(4), 803-814.

Beilharz, J. E., Maniam, J., & Morris, M. J. (2015). DIET-induced cognitive deficits: The role of fat and sugar, potential mechanisms and nutritional interventions. Nutrients, 7(8), 6719–6738.

Kuratko, C. N., Barrett, E. C., Nelson, E. B., & Salem, N. (2013). The relationship of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) with learning and behavior in Healthy Children: A Review. Nutrients, 5(7), 2777–2810.

Palmano, K., Rowan, A., Guillermo, R., Guan, J., & McJarrow, P. (2015). The role of gangliosides in Neurodevelopment. Nutrients, 7(5), 3891–3913.

Wolraich, M. L. (1995). The effect of sugar on behavior or cognition in children. JAMA, 274(20), 1617-1621.

Lee, H., Padhi, E., Hasegawa, Y., Larke, J., Parenti, M., Wang, A., Hernell, O., Lönnerdal, B. & Slupsky, C. (2018). Compositional Dynamics of the Milk Fat Globule and Its Role in Infant Development. Frontiersin.

Khor, G. L., Shyam, S., Misra, S., Fong, B., Chong, M. H. Z., Sulaiman, N., Lee, Y. L., Cannan, R., & Rowan, A. (2016). Correlation between dietary intake and serum ganglioside concentrations: a cross-sectional study among Malaysian toddlers. BMC Nutr, (2)74.

Nazahiah Bakri, N., Nadzri Mohamad, A., Nur Amalina Rashid, I., Faiza Abdul Rahman, F., Rasdi, Z. R., Faezah Md Bohari, N., & Mohd Radzia, A. (2019). Determination of sugar types and content in formulated milk of infants and children in Malaysia. Malaysian Journal of Fundamental and Applied Sciences, 15(5), 695-698.

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