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Childhood ADHD Linked to Causing Adult Obesity, Study Reports

Update Date: May 20, 2013 12:01 PM EDT
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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder most often diagnosed in young children whose hyperactive behaviors impair learning abilities and other cognitive functions such as concentration. ADHD is treatable via therapy and prescription drugs, making the condition controllable. In a new study, researchers found a relationship between ADHD and adult obesity, something they were not expecting to find. However, ADHD has been linked to weight gain before due to the increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse as well as other poor habits. In this study, the researchers discovered that childhood ADHD contributed to calorie-overload and obesity in adulthood.

In this study, the researchers followed young boys diagnosed with ADHD for 33 years. At the end of the study, the men were on average, 41-years-old. The researchers noted that men who had ADHD had body mass index (BMI) readings and obesity rates that were doubled in comparison to men who were not hyperactive children. The research team discovered that 41 percent of men who suffered from childhood ADHD were obese adults. Only 22 percent of men who did not have childhood ADHD were obese.

"There had been suggestions in the past that ADHD might be related to obesity," said researcher, Dr. Francisco Xavier Castellanos, who is also a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University's Langone Medical Center. "There were a lot of checks to make sure this was not due to other conditions. We were able to confirm that this risk seemed really related to childhood diagnosis of ADHD." Although the researchers did not aim to find this relationship, adding another risk factor of obesity could help with developing new screening methods and preventative measures in the hopes of combating obesity.

The findings were concluded after the researchers controlled for variables, such as depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, socioeconomic status, and lifetime mental disorders. The researchers could not find the exact cause of the relationship between ADHD and obesity, but they theorized that it could be due to the factor of self-control.

"We live in a society with super-sized amounts of food," Castellanos said. "If someone has less than average amount of self-control because of ADHD, they are less able to withstand the temptations of food." However, the study had limiting factors, such as missing height and weight for some participants, and a lack of participants with persistent ADHD. The participants' levels of exercise and sleeping patterns were also not recorded.

The National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the International Outgoing Fellowship funded the study. The study was published in Pediatrics

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