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 19 pounds 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 pounds, 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.
In comparison, men without ADHD weighed in at an average of 194 pounds, and 22 percent qualified as obese, Dr. F. Xavier Castellano 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.
Obesity expert Dana Rofey, who was not involved in the study says “sneak eating and aberrant eating patterns” are common among many of her young, male patients with the disorder.
“Once they start eating, they don’t stop,” said Rofey, an assistant professor of pediatric psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and weight management director at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
According to the U.S. 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-calorie food choices.