ADHD

Updated 21 June 2017

Childhood ADHD tied to obesity decades later

Boys who are diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school are more likely to grow up to be obese adults, a new study suggests.

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Boys who are diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in elementary school are more likely to grow up to be obese adults than those who don't have the condition, a new study suggests. Researchers surveyed two groups of 41-year-old men and found those with a history of ADHD were 8.6kg heavier than their non-ADHD counterparts, on average.

The findings are consistent with past studies that looked only at children or only at adults and linked ADHD to extra kilo's, researchers said."There's definitely been enough research now where it does appear there is some connection between these two disorders," said Sherry Pagoto, who has studied ADHD and obesity at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Data for the new study came from 207 white boys with ADHD who were referred to a research clinic at around age eight and followed as they grew up. Ten years later another group of teenage boys without ADHD, who were otherwise similar to the original participants, were added to the study.

Men diagnosed with ADHD were obese

By the time they were asked to report their weight at age 41 111 men from each group were still in the study. On that survey, men with a history of ADHD reported weighing 96.6 kg, on average, and 41% of them were obese. In comparison, men without ADHD weighed in at an average of 87.9 kg, and 22% qualified as obese, Dr F  Xavier Castellanos from the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and his colleagues wrote in Pediatrics.

"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."

In addition, he added, "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 come with ADHD. Pagoto, who was not involved in the new research, agreed that young people with the disorder could be more impulsive when it comes to their food choices and may also spend more time in front of screens than their peers."

Parents should monitor their kids’ weight

Parents of children who have ADHD should pay special attention to how that child's weight is changing over time, knowing that they may be at greater risk for becoming obese," she said."If they're at higher risk of obesity, that may bring other things with it," such as type 2 diabetes, she added.

Contrary to the study team's hypothesis, they found that men who no longer had their childhood ADHD symptoms were especially likely to be obese - not those who still had persistent attention and hyperactivity problems. Pagoto agreed that finding was unexpected and said the study may simply have been too small to tease out reliable differences among adults with a history of ADHD.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, parents report that close to one in ten kids and teenagers has been diagnosed with ADHD. Boys are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed as girls. Castellanos recommended parents of children with ADHD make sure their kids are getting enough exercise and help them cut back on sugary drinks and other high-kilojoule food choices.

 

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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation (www.gb4adhd.co.za) She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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