Link Between Obese Adults and Childhood ADHD

New study links childhood ADHD to obesity in adult men

overweight man holding his stomach

If you battled attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child, there’s a good chance you’ll be fighting the battle of the bulge as an adult, according to a new study.

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A long-term study of more than 200 boys with ADHD by New York University researchers found a strong link between childhood ADHD and adult obesity. In fact, boys who were diagnosed with ADHD as children were more than twice as likely to experience higher body mass index (BMI) and obesity rates in adulthood compared to men who did not have childhood ADHD.

It is estimated that up to 11 percent of American children may have ADHD.

What the study found

The adult men who had childhood ADHD reported an average BMI of about 30.1, while the control group of men without childhood ADHD had an average BMI of 27.6. A man whose BMI is 25 or greater is overweight, while those with a BMI of 30 or greater are obese.

Of the group with childhood ADHD, 41.4 percent were obese. Among the control group, 21.6 percent were obese. This difference amounted to, on average, a 19-pound difference in weight between men with childhood ADHD and their counterparts.

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Kids with ADHD may eat more

Pediatrician Sara Lappe, MD, did not take part in the study, but says the results are not surprising.

“I think it’s what we expect and know, because we know that kids who have ADHD are more at risk for problems with eating and disordered eating,” she says. “Kids that have disordered eating are more likely to be overweight and obese.”

ADHD can lead to underweight, too

Researchers think the link may be due to a lack of impulse control and poor planning skills, which are often associated with ADHD. Dr. Lappe agrees, but adds that a stricter screening regimen may help.

“It’s problematic because there is a subset of kids who have ADHD that are very underweight because the medications that we give for ADHD suppress appetite,” Dr. Lappe says.

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“We have some kids that are underweight, and then there are other kids that have ADHD that have weight problems and are overweight,” she says. “You have to screen for both problems.” 

Parents of children with ADHD should make sure their children develop good eating habits, remaining mindful that it might be harder for children and adults with ADHD to resist impulses to grab a candy bar for a snack, or to eat junk foods that are kept in the house.

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