ADHD Can Increase Obesity & Overweight in Children, Study Says

ADHD and Weight in Children…and other facts about ADHD in kids

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Given the “war on obesity” and the increasing number of children being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the results of a recent study is a real double whammy. According the July issue of Pediatrics, children with ADHD have a 50% higher risk of being medically overweight if they are not taking medication for their condition. Interestingly, those who were taking their medication were much more likely to be underweight.

The Study:

  • Who was studied? 63,000 children and teens between the ages of 5 and 17 years old. The data came from the 2003-2004 U.S. National Survey of Children’s Health.
  • Where were they studied? Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island.
  • By Whom? Molly E. Waring and Kate L. Lapane, researchers from the department of community health.
  • Interesting Fact: 1 in 5 children with ADHD are said to be clinically overweight.
  • Why we need to be careful: On the one side, we need to make sure that one problem does not beget another, such that a problem with focus also connects to a problem with health, but on the other hand, we need to make sure that we don’t make our children “scale” obsessed and give them body image issues on top of everything else! We know from other studies that girls who weigh themselves often are more likely than other girls to engage in unhealthy dieting and go up and down in weight. The girls who are most scale-obsessed, according to a 2006 study out of the University of Minnesota, tend to skip meals, use diet pills, abuse laxatives, smoke, binge, and vomit to lose weight. Help your children stay healthy, but don’t allow them to get crazy about weight.

Arguments against these findings:

(1) Some researchers believe that because the diagnosis of obesity in children and the diagnosis for ADHD are widespread, you can’t say that the overlap is due to a cause-and-effect connection rather than just coincidence.

(2) Some researchers agree that there is a connection and this is nothing new.

(3) Some researchers believe that there is a connection but we don’t know about any cause-and-effect link. In other words, we can’t say that ADHD CAUSES obesity and overweight nor can we say that obesity and overweight CAUSES ADHD.

Facts about ADHD

  • It’s estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of children have ADHD. In the United States, that equals approximately 2 million children.
  • The top characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
  • Symptoms: Fidgeting, squirming, trouble listening, difficulty playing quietly, said to talk a lot and often, often interrupt or intrude impulsively, easily distracted, lack focus, difficulty finishing tasks.
  • Symptoms appear early in the child’s life—but since ALL young children tend to fidget and become impulsive to a degree, it’s important to see a physician for confirmation of diagnosis.
  • Disorders that can sometimes go along with ADHD: Learning disabilities, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, Conduct Disorder, Bipolar Disorder.

Some Possible Treatment Options for ADHD:

(1) Medication

(2) Behavioral Modification

(3) A combination of both Medication and Behavior Modification

(4) Psychotherapy

(5) Social Skills Training

(6) ADHD coach for child

(7) Counseling

(8 ) EEG Biofeedback

(9) ADHD Diet

(10) Alternative Medicine

Have a child or know a child with ADHD? What are your thoughts on the July Pediatrics study? Do you find any challenges with ADHD and the weight of your child? What has worked for you?

Looking forward to hearing from you-

Cartoon above found here


7 Responses

  1. You stole my thunder with your arguments.

    ADHD and obesity are so widespread, how can researchers accurately make this connection.

    And if there is a connection, which is chicken and which is egg?

    I don’t work with children (personal trainer 19+ years), and I don’t think many of my adult clients have ADHD (distracted by their busy lives for sure, but not ADHD) but I do know that people (mainly women) who are obsessed with their body-weight cause themselves more harm than good.

    I try to make the shift from body-weight focused thinking to whole body health focused thinking.

    Body image issues don’t go away as soon as we hit 30, 40 or even 50.

  2. Ah! Thanks for visiting, DR

    Yes, we certainly have a chicken and egg situation here– or some other factor that can be tying the 2 together for some reason. For example, who knows- perhaps a parent that has a child who has trouble sitting for meals sue to ADHD is more likely to provide quick–on-the-run meals, or meals in front of the TV, or fast food– the point is, we don’t know. There may be a link but we aren’t sure what it means.

    As far as weight obsession, positive body image is a passion of mine. I worry that studies like this one can set off yet another alarm in people’s heads that says, “I must tell my child to lose weight” or “I must tell my child to watch what he eats” which may just backfire. We want our children and family to make healthy food and exercise choices because they want to be healthy NOT because they fear weight.

    Studying body image for 10 years now, you are quite correct– adults have these issues just as much as children. It provides a reinforcing effect that we all need to be weary of so that we don’t send the wrong message to children.

    Thanks for visiting– come back soon!

    Dr. Robyn

  3. Are they claiming that children with ADHD/ADD have a higher risk of obesity because of impulse control??

    I’ve often wondered if my issues with weight stem from my impulsivity with eating when I’m happy, sad, depressed, bored, etc… I don’t have that little voice that says “stop – you’ve had enough”. Thankfully I am not obese, but slightly overweight, but have struggled in getting it off for years and I really don’t have that much to lose.

  4. I accept and agree with the comments in artilce and as well as of DrRobyn

  5. Hi ADD Mama-

    I imagine that the impulsiveness theory is one possibility connecting ADHD to obesity– however, there is no causal link identified. At this point, they are simply seeing a connection or what they would call a “correlation” but they can’t say what the source of the connection may be. Is it impulsiveness leading to obesity and overweight? Is something in the medicine mediating hunger (or lack there of) or speeding up digestion? Is it something else all together?

    There needs to be a lot more research to understand the connection more.

    Thanks for stopping by– please come back and visit soon!

    Dr. Robyn

  6. […] ADHD Can Increase Obesity & Overweight in Children, Study Says […]

  7. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued new guidance recommending use of Acomplia (rimonabant) in England and Wales, within its licensed indications, as an adjunct to diet and exercise for adults who are obese or overweight and who have had an inadequate response to, are intolerant of or are contraindicated to other anti-obesity agents that have previously been reviewed by NICE

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