ADHD and Obesity: Is There a Link?

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • There are many behaviors seen in children and adults with ADHD that just make sense, when you consider that the core symptoms are, among other things, inattention, impulsivity, distractibility and more. People with ADHD typically are sensory seeking, even though it may not always look that way, especially if the individual has the inattentive sub-type.

     

    For example, many who are impulsive might find themselves having problems in the area of high risk behaviors, such as brief but many sexual encounters, over-spending, and gambling.

     

    A hyperactive individual might get involved in dangerous activities like car racing. Or they might have an exercise addiction.

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    An inattentive person's need for stimuli might be harder to see, but usually it's there. It might be seen in the areas of internet, TV or even video game addiction.

     

    Those who study ADHD and addictions have begun to look at the connection between eating disorders and ADHD and lately and more specifically, ADHD and obesity. For many, eating can be either stimulating or sedating...or even both.

     

    There have been a few studies in recent years showing a correlation between obesity in children/adolescents and having ADHD. However, there has been little research on the possible link between ADHD and obesity in adults.

     

    A new study, recently published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders, explored why some adults have difficulty staying on weight loss programs. The researchers at the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health and the University of Toronto (Canada) administered ADHD tests to 75 women who had been referred to an obesity clinic. The average age of the women was 40 and the average Body Mass Index (BMI) was 43, which is considered to be in the severely obese range.

    The ADHD tests included self-reports of retrospective childhood symptoms and a rating of current ADHD symptoms.

     

    Their findings were interesting. Compared to the general population, the researchers found that 26.6% of the obese subjects were classified as having ADHD, whereas in the general population, 3-5% of adults are known to have ADHD.  The researchers found the statistics significant.

    Researchers J.P. Fleming and colleagues wrote: "While the current study does not allow us to ascertain the cause of the deficit, it is striking that a very high percentage of this sample of severely obese women report very substantial problems with the set of symptoms that we classify as reflecting ADHD."

     

    What prompted the study was an observation that a significant number of obese clients had tremendous difficulty keeping accurate records of their diet planning- planning and preparing their meals- as well as eating and exercising regularly. These observations prompted the team to research the reasons behind this, thus the discovery of the ADHD/obesity connection.

     

    The researchers noted that, "while the current study does not allow us to ascertain the cause of the deficit, it is striking that a very high percentage of this sample of severely obese women report very substantial problems with the set of symptoms that we classify as reflecting ADHD."

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    They acknowledged that the study was limited due to the fact that there wasn't a control group and that the ADHD diagnosis was through self reports, which cannot always be considered accurate; therefore, further research needs to be done in this area. They also concurred that the high rate of co-morbidities typically found in children and adults with ADHD could contribute to the obesity. For example, depression and anxiety can also cause eating disturbances in people with ADHD.

     

    Earlier studies on children and adolescents, such as the one published in January 2007 at The Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, also found a correlation between ADHD and obesity. Those researchers reported that ADHD should be assessed and proper treatment should be offered when treating youngsters with obesity.

Published On: June 23, 2008