Previous studies have linked ADHD to obesity, but it was unclear as to the relationship between the two and which came first. New research now suggests that having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in childhood, may put children at a higher risk for obesity in adolescence.
Senior author, Alina Rodriguez, who worked on the study at Imperial College London in the UK, said, “In general, people think of children with hyperactivity as moving around a lot and therefore should be slim.” However, kids who have ADHD tend to be overactive in a fidgety way, she adds. “Children with ADHD are not more likely to participate in physical activity, as we show in our report,” she told Reuters Health in an email. Her team’s results suggest that children with behavioral difficulties are less likely to be active as they get older.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, around 5% of kids have ADHD, which does not have a cure. However, is treated with a combination of medication and behavior therapy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study involved almost 7,000 Finnish children born in 1986. At the age of seven or eight, the teachers of the children described their ADHD symptoms or conduct disorder, a psychological disorder involving antisocial behavior. Parents then reported their children’s weight and height and how much time they spent actively playing. Then at the age of 16, the same parents were asked about their teens ADHD symptoms and the teens themselves were asked about their physical activity and how often they engaged in binge eating, or “devour(ing) large amounts of food.” Researchers also got the young people’s height, weight and waist size from doctors’ examinations.
According to the results, kids who had symptoms of ADHD at a young age were almost twice as likely to be obese as teens. In addition, ADHD in childhood was linked with too little physical activity, but not with binge eating. Researchers also found that children who were less physically active had problems paying attention, which would assume the relationship between ADHD and lack of physical activity probably goes in both directions, they write.
Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, a child psychiatrist and professor emeritus at The Ohio State University in Columbus, says that researchers have known about the link for a decade now. “Anything regarding obesity is important, with a good third of the population struggling to keep weight down,” Arnold said. The kids in the study were not on medication for ADHD, but medication does suppress appetite at first, he notes.
Rodriguez adds, “It may be possible that we could ameliorate problems with both ADHD and obesity by encouraging children to be more physically active.”