Obesity and ADHD

North America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. In Canada, one in four adults and one in 10 children have clinical obesity, which is a major public health concern.

Obesity is a leading cause of type II diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, some forms of cancer and Alzheimer’s. For each unit increase of body mass index in a 50-year-old, one study predicts onset of dementia symptoms 6.7 months earlier.

We also known, obesity can be a problem in some psychiatric conditions. One meta-analysis found a significant link between ADHD and obesity in both children and adults.

Roughly four per cent of school-aged children experience ADHD and the majority of them will continue to have symptoms as adults. Examining this link between ADHD and obesity represents an important finding and public health challenge.

An international group of researchers examined data from 42 studies, which included more than 700,000 people, and found a significant association between ADHD and obesity.

Adults with ADHD saw an increase in the prevalence of obesity by about 70 per cent. In children with the condition, obesity prevalence was increased about 40 percent.

Individuals receiving treatment for their ADHD did not have any additional likelihood of obesity than their untreated peers. These findings are counter-intuitive in some ways because the stimulant medications used to treat ADHD have reduced appetite as a so-called adverse effect.

In children, weight loss can be a dose limiting side-effect and in some cases a reason to discontinue medication altogether. Most adults are delighted to hear that reduced appetite is an expected adverse effect.

Although reasons for this link between ADHD and obesity are unknown, it is likely to have at least some behavioural aspect.

ADHD is associated with symptoms of impulsivity, which could make it more likely for people with this condition to have difficulty regulating eating behaviour.

If this is the case, behviour therapy in combination with medication may be helpful for both conditions.

Study authors noted it is also possible ADHD and obesity share underlying causes such as genes or environmental risk factors.

Regardless of the cause, education and awareness of the issue could help parents of children with ADHD to intervene early and prevent obesity from developing.

Similarly, adults visiting their doctor for help in managing obesity may be helped by being screened for ADHD.  They may find better treatment success if both conditions are well-managed.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


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About the Author

Paul Latimer has over 25 years experience in clinical practice, research, and administration.

After obtaining his medical degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he did psychiatric training at Queen's, Oxford and Temple Universities. After his residency he did a doctorate in medical science at McMaster University where he was also a Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar.

Since 1983 he has been practicing psychiatry in Kelowna, BC, where he has held many administrative positions and conducted numerous clinical trials.

He has published many scientific papers and one book on the psychophysiology of the functional bowel disorders.

He is an avid photographer, skier and outdoorsman.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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