Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my understanding that sugar does not have an appreciable effect on human behavior, yet every teacher and parent I know believes fervently in the sugar “high” and the apparent wild effect on children. How did this nonfact get to be accepted as gospel by so many? –Michelle Murphy, Manhattan Beach, California

I dunno. For that matter, now that I think about it, how did the Gospels get to be accepted as gospel? But we’ll tackle that another day. You’re absolutely right about sugar: judging from numerous studies, it doesn’t cause bad behavior in kids, but most parents and teachers think it does. A survey of 389 Canadian primary-school teachers found that 80 percent believed sugar made kids more active, and more than half had told parents of disruptive kids to cut down on the sweets.

The idea that sugar causes craziness in children has been around since at least 1929 and became particularly popular during the 1970s. One major study (Prinz et al, 1980) did purport to show that kids with behavioral problems got worse the more sugar they consumed. But the Prinz study used a dubious method to measure sugar intake (it weighed the food rather than its sugar content), and attempts to replicate it were inconclusive. Other studies have shown little or no effect, and a few claimed to show that sugar improved behavior. (Sugar probably does offer a quick pick-me-up when you’re tired, but that doesn’t mean it makes kids wacky.)

Why does belief in the “sugar high” persist, apparently in the face of the facts? Chances are it’s the full-moon effect: since A (nutty behavior) follows B (the appearance of the full moon, ingesting sugar), people assume A is caused by B. Not so; it’s just that folks don’t notice when kids act up without having eaten sugar first. To that we have to add the fact that sugar has gotten rotten press over the last 25 years (it’s full of “empty calories,” makes you fat, etc.), so people are disposed to believe the worst. Ha, you’re thinking, he’s only saying this because he got that 50 bucks from the sugar trust. Nonsense; I would have said the same thing even if they’d given me only 25. Just because sugar isn’t especially good for you doesn’t mean that it’s bad.


Regarding humor in the Bible [November 5], here are some jokes from the New Testament (John 1:45-51):

“Philip found Nathanael and said unto him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”‘ (Joke!) “Philip said to him, ‘Come and see!'” (Boom!) “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile'” (“Hey, here’s an honest Jew”–joke). Nathanael (not getting it) said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you yesterday, standing under a fig tree.” Nathanael said (losing his cool), “‘Rabbi, you are the son of God! You are the king of Israel!’ Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said I saw you standing under a fig tree, believest thou?'” (Big joke! Gets laughs!) “You shall see greater things than these.” (Release.) “And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly I say unto you, you shall see the heavens opened and the angels of the Lord ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.'”(Boom!)

Preserving humor through translations from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English is problematic, but with a little sympathy for the intent of the speaker, you can find a lot. –Del Close, Chicago

PS: I tried out these jokes on my improv class this afternoon and after 2,000 years they still get laughs!

Having seen you in action, Del, I’d say you could get laughs reading from the phone book. But I’ll admit the fig-tree story is the closest I’ve heard to a Bible joke that’s actually funny.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

Cecil Adams

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