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Childhood ADHD linked to obesity in adulthood according to new study

Published: Monday, May 20 2013 1:50 p.m. MDT

Researchers found that men in the study who were diagnosed with ADHD weighed 19 pounds more at age 41 than otherwise similar men who hadn't had ADHD as boys.

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Although children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may seem to always be moving, a new study published by Pediatrics suggests that men who were diagnosed with ADHD as children are more likely to be obese once they reach adulthood.

According to NPR, researchers found that "men who had ADHD weighed 19 pounds more at age 41 than otherwise similar men who hadn't had ADHD as boys."

ADHD is a disorder characterized by hyperactivity, impulsiveness, inattention and an inability to focus. It affects approximately 6.8 percent of U.S. children ages 3 to 17 in any given year, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ADHD is generally treated with medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, which are stimulants that can suppress appetite.

“Many parents are concerned that their children may not be gaining as much weight as they should because (ADHD) medications can decrease appetite in the short run, but these results would lead me to be much less worried about that now,” said corresponding author F. Xavier Castellanos told Scientific American. “It helps us to realize that over the long run, the potential risks of obesity, of overeating and of dysregulation are a more prominent long-term concern.”

The researchers followed 222 boys in total for an average of 33 years. All of the boys were from middle-class, white families. Half of the boys were diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of 6 and 12 and the other half did not have ADHD.

Researchers calculated the body mass index of all 222 participants, discovering that men diagnosed with ADHD as children were significantly heavier than those without the disorder. The average BMI for the ADHD participants was 30.1, compared to 27.6 among those who never had the disorder. The obesity rate among men who’d had an ADHD diagnosis was 41.4 percent, compared to 21.6 percent among those who never had the disorder.

An adult with a BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight, according to the CDC.

According to NPR, "this study doesn't figure out why boyhood ADHD might be causing weight problems in adulthood. The weight gain could be caused by psychological factors or neurobiology, Castellanos speculates. Differences in the pathways for dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, have been found in both people who are obese and people with ADHD, he says."

"People with ADHD have a terrible time delaying gratification," child psychiatrist Dr. James McGough told NBC News. "They’re very impulsive and they don’t think about consequences. Their problems with organization may make it more difficult to stay on a regular eating schedule, which leaves them more likely to binge eat.”

Dr. Edward Hallowel, a psychiatrist in Sudbury, Mass., told NPR he often sees adult patients with ADHD who struggle with overeating. "Nutrition should be part of the treatment plan."

Editor's Note: The original version of this story posted on May 20, 2013, failed to properly attribute all source materials, which violates our editorial policies. The story was revised on Oct. 10, 2013, to attribute original source material.

Email: crenouard@deseretnews.com

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