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ADHD in Childhood, Obesity in Adulthood?

By Heather Turgeon |

ADHD and obesity

Impulsive behaviors, unhealthy eating?

ADHD is making the news today. The CDC just reported that the rate of ADHD is up to 1 in 10 children — a 22 percent increase from 2003.

And in related news, findings from Duke University tell us that young adults with a history of ADHD symptoms are more likely to be obese.

The researchers studied over 11,500 kids starting in 1995. What they found was that those who reported more ADHD-type behaviors as children were more likely to struggle with weight later in life.

Of those who reported three or more hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms in childhood, 41 percent were obese as young adults.

Here are some possible reason for the ADHD link:

1. An impulsive personality leads to bad eating habits: The people who reported impulsivity and hyperactivity were much more likely to report being overweight than those who just had only the “inattentive” symptoms of ADHD.  This means that having an impulsive streak might make a person more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and have weight struggles.

2. Kids who are on ADHD meds could develop bad eating practices: Since a decreased appetite is a side effect of some ADHD medications, it could be that kids on them don’t naturally learn healthy eating habits. And maybe when they go off the medication for short periods or for good, it’s hard to balance out a good diet.

3. ADHD and eating patterns share similar brain pathways: Both ADHD and eating are connected to the brain’s dopamine (reward) system. It could be that certain wiring predisposes kids for changes in both hyperactive behavior and eating at the same time.

To be sure, this doesn’t show a causal link between ADHD and obesity, it just means the two are correlated. But according to the scientists, it isn’t the first time ADHD and obesity have been connected.

What do you think, do kids with a more impulsive nature need extra coaching to develop healthy eating habits?

Image: flickr/diofink

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About Heather Turgeon


Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “ADHD in Childhood, Obesity in Adulthood?

  1. Darren Blair says:

    There’s an interesting view that ADHD is a ‘made up’ condition. maps the spread of aggressive treatment of ADHD across the US and shows how it spread from California to the East coast from 2004

  2. Meagan says:

    There’s also a possibility that seems pretty likely to me… while I don’t think ADHD is any way “made up,” I’m pretty sure it’s hugely over-diagnosed. I think a lot of the kids who are labeled as ADHD really have poor diets to begin with, too many unrefined sugars, too many snacks. Sort of like most Americans. It’s quite likely that these bad habits could lead to to a lifetime of bad habits.

  3. Meagan says:

    Wait. I think I meant refined sugars. Not unrefined sugars.

  4. Karen says:

    I’m a 46 year old British Woman in UK….
    I was diagnosed with ADHD (Inattentive and Impulsive) By a Psychiatrist, in my mid-thirties ; After 3 of my 5 children were Diagnosed, by a Specialized Child Psychiatrist, to have ADHD and ODD .
    As a child, I knew I was different to other Children, but I never knew, what that difference was….
    I had difficulties in all school subjects, except ART, where I could express myself, in an arty way.
    I had difficulty retaining information, given by teachers, in the class subjects (History, Geography, Biology etc. etc. ) and therefore was unable to do the class work or Homework ; At school, I was seated at the back of the class, which suited me at the time, but unfortunately, I was neglected by the teachers and often moved to another class, where other low-intelligent and naughty children, were placed, to do easier work…. But with little encouragement! ; As a matter of fact, We were often left to our own devices! (Great fun at the time, but useless in the way of trying to educate us).
    The easier classes, were known by the other school pupils, as the ‘Thick Class’ where ‘Thick naughty children’ would be taught!
    My frustration of my own lack of intelligence and understanding, was bad enough, but also labelled as ‘Thick’ and ‘Naughty’ by my peers and other younger and older pupils of the school, gave my self esteem a punch in the guts!
    I could not explain to myself, why I was having difficulty, with school work, never mind explain to my teachers, parents and my older ‘Clever’ sister (my only sibling)…
    I really thought I was THICK!
    Teachers thought I was naughty and gave me detentions for not handing in any work done in class or homework ; I started to play truant from school, to avoid the humiliation and embarrassment of being ‘Thick’.
    I needed to tell lies to the teachers, to explain the days of ‘Sickness’, for the days I secretly truanted and lies to my parents, on those days I pretended to be sent home from school, supposing to be feeling ill.
    Back then, telephones were a luxury and The school wasn’t able to contact my parents about my supposed ‘Days off ill’.
    Eventually I got caught out and with my very highly strung Mother, was instructed to have an appointment with the Head of School ; Where I was given a good telling off…. But was not recognised as having ‘Learning Difficulties’, but instead, recognised to be a rebellious ‘Naughty Girl’ and given No extra support or encouragement, with my lessons!
    Soon enough, my peers thought me, to be a ‘Liar’ as-well as ‘Thick’ and ‘Naughty’…. I lost all my friends and was bullied…. in turn, I became quite a rebel and my own leisure time became more important, than School time… I had an older Boyfriend, who had a job and owned a motorbike ; He made me laugh and enjoy some moments of a day, especially, when he would turn up, at the school gate at dinner-time, on his motorbike, we would speed away to anywhere, away from my school.
    My boyfriend, didn’t know why I hated school and to be honest, he probably wouldn’t of cared anyway ; He liked me, because I was Impulsive and reckless, which was fun.
    Looking back ; Thankfully I avoided getting into any trouble with the police, drugs and alcohol and although I sat my exams, it was almost a pointless exercise, as I only had one decent grade and that was for ART.
    My Teens and Twenties were quite crazy and SEX and Food became an Instinct for self gratification…. Unmarried yet having children and gaining weight gradually and unable to kick the self gratification of FOOD I had become obese for my height and become a Chronic Depressive on Anti-Depressants for Life!
    I really feel hurt, when I read peoples comments, that say ADHD is a made-up excuse for ‘Naughty’ Children and Adults…. Listen to what the Sufferers of ADHD have to say….Though, you may need to wait a while, for the Children with ADHD to have their say, as they don’t know, why they Think and react as they do…. To the ADHD sufferer, Everything they do or say or act, is as Instinct as breathe!

    I have been prescribed Medication for the effects of ADHD (Inattentiveness, Impulsiveness, Insomnia etc etc ) with little effect, I have therefore, chose not to take my medication, (with its own side effects) and try to continue my Life-time of memo writing and consistent re-organising in my life of confusion with a head full of Impulsive thoughts to hold back! Ho hum!

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