Childhood ADHD Linked To Adult Obesity
May 20, 2013

ADHD Kids More Likely To Become Obese Adults

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

Individuals diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as children are more likely to grow up to be obese adults, say researchers who conducted a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that close to 1 in 10 children and teenagers have been diagnosed with ADHD, and that boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed as girls.

The long-term study, which was released Monday, found that a typical boy with ADHD can appear to be quite active but that this activity doesn´t guarantee a path toward healthy weight later in life. The researchers found that men diagnosed with ADHD as children were, in fact, twice as likely to be overweight or obese as adults compared to those who were never diagnosed with the disorder.

The study tracked 207 white males with ADHD who were referred to a research clinic at around age eight and were followed as they grew up. A decade later, another group of teenage boys without ADHD that was otherwise similar to the original test group were added to the study. By the time subjects were asked to report their weight at age 41, there were still 111 men from each group.

The researchers found that the men with a history of ADHD reported having an average weight of 213 pounds, and 41 percent of these were considered obese. By comparison those who had not been diagnosed with ADHD weighed in at an average of 194 pounds with 22 percent who qualified as obese. The average BMI for the ADHD group was 30.1 compared to 27.6 for those who never had been diagnosed with ADHD.

An adult with a BMI of 24 or higher is considered overweight, according to the CDC.

These findings could be surprising to parents because drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall, which are used to treat ADHD, can also suppress appetite.

“It´s not uncommon for kids treated with ADHD medications to be fairly thin,” Dr. F. Xavier Castellanos, co-author of the study and professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University, said in a statement. Castellanos is also director of the Center for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the Child Study Center.

He added that as a result of the thinness of those boys, the parents, who fear that their children may not be eating enough, may tend to “encourage their boys to eat more.”

“As we learn more about the regions of the brain that may be implicated in obesity, they overlap with brain regions implicated in ADHD,” Castellanos told Reuters Health. “The reward system seems to be relevant to both conditions.”

“There is the speculation that the obesity is at least partly reflecting some of the impulsivity, poor planning and the difficulty in making choices (that accompany ADHD),” he added.

Castellanos stressed that diet should be closely monitored, and that parents should pay attention to how often their children eat fast food, and whether such meals are being “supersized.” He has also recommended that parents of children with ADHD make sure that the kids get enough exercise, cut back on sugary drinks and reduce the intake of high-calorie food choices.