When you hear the term “ADHD”, don’t you immediately think of your high school class clown- the one that couldn’t sit still and was constantly doing anything but paying attention in class? That’s a complete and total stereotype, I know. That description certainly doesn’t encompass all kids with ADHD, but it does have the word “hyperactivity” in the name, leading you to imagine a kid constantly running around in circles and jumping up and down. Using that (flawed) logic, you’d think kids with ADHD would be skinny, based on all the extra activity. A long-term ADHD study recently revealed just the opposite: that ADHD may be a cause of obesity. (Coincidently, research is also pointing towards breastfeeding preventing ADHD.)
A study performed at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center found that males diagnosed with ADHD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, were twice as likely to be obese as adults. Although ADHD is associated with over activity, it’s also characterized by poor impulse control and poor planning skills. These last two traits could lead to less than stellar eating habits and food choices. This may not be surprising as those with ADHD have been shown to have increased problems with drugs and alcohol, lower education rates, and more crimes. Drugs, alcohol, and food all have one thing in common: impulsive behavior.
The Centers for Disease Control report ADHD as the most common neurobehavioral disorder. It accounts for 5% of the global population, affecting men more frequently than women. This particular study was designed to look at long term health outcomes for children with ADHD. Researchers only started looking at the relationship between ADHD and weight when many of their subjects couldn’t fit in the scanners. We know obesity is a huge problem in our country right now and every angle we fight it from helps. The study followed men for 33 years, examining their weight and BMI. The men who had ADHD had an average BMI of 30.1, compared to the control group of men without ADHD at 27.6. The same goes for obesity rates with 41.1% of the men with ADHD being obese and only 21.6% of the control group.
Because ADHD affects a rather large proportion of the population, it’s important to make this connection so diet education can be included in ADHD treatment.