ADHD in Childhood Linked to Obesity

ADHD in Childhood Linked to Obesity

ADHD in Childhood Linked to Obesity

ADHD in Childhood Linked to ObesityObesity is the common term for a level of excess body weight high enough to pose serious dangers to a person’s health and well-being. Significant numbers of adults and children in the U.S. carry enough excess weight to qualify for an obesity diagnosis. Two separate studies published in 2013 examined the impact of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on a child’s short- and long-term chances of becoming obese. These studies concluded that the presence of ADHD symptoms substantially raises the risks for obesity in adolescence and in adulthood.

Calculating Obesity

Doctors gauge the health implications of body weight by performing a simple calculation called the body mass index test (commonly known as BMI). This calculation uses weight and height as variables in a mathematical formula, then uses the information provided by this formula to classify a person as underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese or extremely (morbidly) obese. Underweight people receive scores of 18.4 or lower on the standardized BMI scale, while normal-weight people fall into a range between 18.5 and 24.9 on the scale. Overweight people have BMI scores that fall between 25.0 and 29.9. Obese people have BMI scores ranging from 30.0 to 39.9, and extremely obese people have BMI scores that reach or exceed 40.0.

ADHD Symptoms

The symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder fall into one of two main groups, called hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention. Indications of hyperactivity/impulsivity include uncontrolled talkativeness, physical restlessness, difficulty taking turns or waiting for others, lack of situation-appropriate emotional or verbal restraint, difficulty remaining quiet and a tendency to interrupt the conversations or actions of others. Indications of inattention include easy boredom, a tendency to daydream, difficulty absorbing or using instructions, general problems taking in new information, problems maintaining focus, difficulty tracking other people’s statements during conversations and a tendency toward forgetfulness or distraction. Some children and adults diagnosed with ADHD have predominant symptoms of either hyperactivity/impulsivity or inattention. Others are affected by both groups of symptoms in roughly equal measure.

Short-Term Impact

In a study published in January 2013 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, a team of German and Austrian researchers examined the ways in which the presence of ADHD-related hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention alter the course of weight loss treatment in teenagers diagnosed with obesity. The study included 253 teens between the ages of 13 and 17. BMI measurements of these participants were taken before they received obesity treatment, immediately after completing treatment and one year after the end of treatment. After reviewing the gathered data, the researchers concluded that obese teenagers affected by symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity and/or inattention initially lose weight just as efficiently as their peers unaffected by ADHD. However, over time, these teenagers experience notable difficulty keeping weight off their bodies and tend to gravitate back toward obese weight classifications.

Long-Term Impact

In another study, published in June 2013 in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the U.S., Italy and Mexico examined the long-term weight-related effects of childhood ADHD on a group of 207 men. During childhood, these men had received an ADHD diagnosis by an average age of 8; they were an average of 41 years old when they took part in the study. The researchers compared the BMI levels and overall obesity rates of these 207 participants to a second group of 178 men unaffected by childhood ADHD.

After reviewing their findings, the study’s authors concluded that the men with childhood histories of ADHD had an average BMI score of 30.1 (which falls at the lower end of the obesity range). By comparison, the men with no childhood ADHD history had an average BMI score of 27.6 (which falls in roughly the middle of the overweight range). Overall, slightly more than 41 percent of the men affected by childhood ADHD qualified as obese on the BMI scale, while only slightly less than 22 percent of the men unaffected by childhood ADHD qualified as obese.


The relatively high obesity rates in people with histories of ADHD are likely most strongly tied to the effects of hyperactivity/impulsivity, the authors of the study in Pediatrics report. People affected by symptoms of impulsivity, in particular, may have trouble making the decisions necessary to maintain a healthy diet and reduce the chances of gaining excessive amounts of weight. The authors of this study emphasize the need to instruct young children with ADHD in healthy eating, as well as the need to monitor ADHD-affected children’s ongoing obesity risks as they transition their way toward adolescence and adulthood.

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