Children who exhibit the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have an increased risk of being obese adults, according to a study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center.
“This is the first study to take this concept out of the clinic and into the population and show that it’s not just the diagnosis of ADHD that matters; it’s the symptoms,” said Scott Kollins, PhD, director of the Duke ADHD Program and co-author of the study.
Most importantly, the stronger the attention deficit symptoms are in the child, the stronger the chance for future obesity.
In the study, researchers measured symptoms of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity, along with blood pressure, body mass index and waist circumference in 15,197 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The teens were followed from 1995 through 2009.
If the adolescent had three or more of any of the symptoms, his or her chances of becoming obese significantly increased.
“It’s a dose effect,” said Bernard Fuemmeler, PhD, MPH, lead author of the study and director of the Pediatric Psychology and Family Health Promotion Lab in the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Duke.
“We showed that as the number of symptoms increase, the prevalence of obesity also increases.”
The ADHD symptoms that were the most significant risk factors were hyperactivity and impulsivity. In fact, the chances of becoming obese increased to 63 percent among children who had only hyperactive or impulsive symptoms. Furthermore, hyperactive or impulsive symptoms led to greater weight gain in the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
This type of research may offer clues to what’s driving the obesity epidemic, believes Fuemmeler.
“The findings support the idea that certain self-regulation capacities, like the ability to regulate one’s impulses, could be a relevant trait to understanding why some people may be more vulnerable to obesity,” explained Fuemmeler.
Also observed during this study was the association between ADHD symptoms and high blood pressure. However, the conclusion was that although there was a link, it was related more to the teens’ weight than their attention deficit disorder symptoms.
“The most exciting thing about this research is it gives us a thread to follow in determining why kids with ADHD symptoms might be at risk for developing obesity,” Kollins said.
“It establishes the path for identifying these kids earlier and focusing on intervention methods.”
The study is published online in the International Journal of Obesity.
Source: Duke University Medical Center