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Hyperkinesis or Hyperactivity can be described as a physical state in which a person is abnormally and easily excitable or exuberant. Strong emotional reactions, impulsive behavior, and sometimes a short span of attention are also typical for a hyperactive person. Some individuals may show these characteristics naturally, as personality differs from person to person. Nonetheless, when hyperactivity starts to become a problem for the person or others, it may be classified as a medical disorder. The slang term "hyper" is used to describe someone who is in a hyperactive state.


Hyperkinetic Disorder alone is classified in the ICD as either a "Disturbance of Activity and Attention", "Other Hyperkinetic Disorders" or "Hyperkinetic Disorders, Unspecified". The latter is sometimes referred to as "Hyperkinetic Syndrome".[1]

When a conduct disorder (as defined by ICD-10[1]) is also present, the condition is referred to as "Hyperkinetic conduct disorder".

Hyperkinesis is a relatively recent phenomenon as a medical diagnostic category. However, the roots of the diagnosis and treatment of this clinical entity are found earlier. Hyperkinesis is also known as Minimal Brain Dysfunction, Hyperactive Syndrome, Hyperkinetic Disorder of Childhood, and by several other diagnostic categories. Although the symptoms and the presumed etiology vary, in general the behaviors are quite similar and greatly overlap. Typical symptom patterns for diagnosing the disorder include: extreme excess of motor activity (the children flits from activity to activity); restlessness; fidgetiness; often wildly or oscillating mood swings (he's fine one day, a terror the next); clumsiness; aggressive-like behavior; impulsivity; in school he cannot sit still, cannot comply with rules, has low frustration levels; frequently there may be sleeping problems and acquisition of speech may be delayed (Stewart et al., 1966; Stewart, 1970; Wender, 1971). Most of the symptoms for the disorder are deviant behaviors. It is six times as prevalent among boys as among girls. The term hyperkinesis is used to represent all the diagnostic categories of this disorder.

Critiques of medicalization have sometimes referred to the diagnosis of hyperkinesis or ADHD, for example Peter Conrad's "The discovery of hyperkinesis: notes on medicalization of deviance," published in 1973.

Causes of hyperactivity

There was a great deal of focus on Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as a cause of hyperactivity. Other conditions can cause it as well. Normal young children can be very lively and may or may not have short attention spans. Normal teenagers can also appear hyperactive; puberty can cause it. Children who are bored, are suffering from mental conflict, or are having problems at home — which may even include sexual abuse — can be hyperactive. The disorder has a large range of effects on children. Some have learning disabilities, while others may be very gifted, or both.

Hyperactivity can also occur because of problems with hearing or vision. Overactive thyroid, lead poisoning, atypical depression, mania, anxiety, sleep deprivation and a range of psychiatric illnesses are some of the potential causes.

Severe cases of hyperactivity can be very harmful if left untreated, since hyperactive people seldom think about the consequences of their actions[How to reference and link to summary or text].

Sugar consumption as a cause of hyperactivity

A common belief is that eating too much sugar will make a person hyperactive. This belief is especially prevalent amongst parents and teachers who claim that children's behavior often get more rowdy, excited and energetic after they eat too many sugary food and drinks (such as candy/sweets or soft drinks). One particular study found that the perception by parents regarding their children's hyperactivity depended on their belief as to whether they had been given sugar. Other studies have shown that the consumption of sugary items does not cause a measurable increase in hyperactive behavior.[2] Hyperactivity is involved with attention span and personality traits.[3]

Studies on other dietary causes of hyperactivity

A September 2007 article from Southampton University, touted by the UK Food Standards Agency, displayed that a statistically significant increase in the hyperactivity of children occurred after they consumed common artificial food colours and additives from fruit drinks. The list of compounds included the nearly ubiquitous additive in the beverage industry sodium benzoate and the also popular tartrazine, along with quinonline yellow, sunset yellow, carmoisine and allura red. The UK Food Standards Agency has revised its stance on these additives; informing parents of children that demonstrate hyperactive behaviour that removal of foods contain the six additives from their diet could have beneficial results on behaviour.[4] Other studies have recommended the Feingold Diet which eliminates several synthetic colors, synthetic flavors, synthetic preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. Scientific studies have shown mixed results in double blind studies of the diet[2], but recently several reports have been published indicating a statistically significant effect on the behaviour of children on the diet [5][6].

Complicating Factors

Other studies point to synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents agravating ADD & ADHD symptoms in those affected.[7][8] Older studies were inconclusive quite possibly due to inadequate clinical methods of measuring offending behavior. Parental reports were more accurate indicators of the presence of additives than clinical tests. [9] Several major studies show academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in large non-ADD student populations when artificial ingredients were eliminated from school food programs.[10][11]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 ICD-10. World Health Organization. URL accessed on December 11, 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Krummel DA, Seligson FH, Guthrie HA (1996). Hyperactivity: is candy causal?. Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition 36 (1-2): 31-47.
  3. Cornell University
  4. Food Standards Agency
  5. Schab DW, Trinh NH (2004). Do artificial food colors promote hyperactivity in children with hyperactive syndromes? A meta-analysis of double-blind placebo-controlled trials. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP 25 (6): 423-34.
  6. Donna McCann et al (2007). Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet in press.
  7. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial”, Lancet, Sept 2007
  8. 1997 Graduate Student Research Project conducted at the University of South Florida. Author- Richard W. Pressinger M.Ed.
  9. >"Food Additives May Affect Kids' Hyperactivity", WebMD Medical News, May 24, 2004
  10. A different kind of school lunch", PURE FACTS October 2002
  11. The Impact of a Low Food Additive and Sucrose Diet on Academic Performance in 803 New York City Public Schools, Schoenthaler SJ, Doraz WE, Wakefield JA, Int J Biosocial Res., 1986, 8(2); 185-195

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