Children diagnosed with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tend to engage in fewer healthy lifestyle behaviors compared to their non-ADHD peers, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Attention Disorders.
The researchers suggest that kids with ADHD may benefit from increasing healthy behaviors, such as drinking more water, reducing screen time, and getting at least one hour of physical activity per day.
Although ADHD is often managed with prescription drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin, many parents are worried about the side effects of these medications and are interested in alternative treatments.
The study is the first to look at the total number of healthy lifestyle behaviors children with ADHD follow, as compared to typically developing children.
“Many parents of children diagnosed with ADHD do not want their children on medication,” said Dr. Kathleen Holton, lead study author and assistant professor in American University’s Department of Health Studies and member of American University’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience.
“Having their children follow healthy lifestyle behaviors may be an effective intervention either alongside or in the place of traditional ADHD medications.”
Holton and co-author Dr. Joel Nigg of Oregon Health & Science University set out to determine whether children ages seven to 11 were following key health recommendations for this age group from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Sleep Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Current guidelines recommend no more than one to two hours of total screen time daily; getting at least one hour of physical activity daily; limiting consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages; getting nine to 11 hours of sleep per night; and consuming seven to 10 cups of water daily, depending on age.
The researchers developed a lifestyle index to summarize the total number of healthy lifestyle behaviors adhered to by 184 children with ADHD as compared to a control group of 104 non-ADHD youth.
The findings revealed that children with ADHD were more likely to consume artificially sweetened juice, less likely to read for more than one hour per day, more likely to have more than two hours of screen time per day, and more likely to engage in fewer hours of physical activity during the week.
Parents of children with ADHD were also much more likely to report that their children have difficulty falling asleep, express concern about their child’s sleep habits, and fear that sleep problems may be leading to behavior issues. These associations remained even in children not currently taking ADHD medication, which is known to cause sleep disturbance.
“Parents of children with ADHD should talk with their pediatrician about how to improve health behaviors, such as limiting screen time, encouraging physical activity, improving bedtime routines, and drinking water rather than other beverages,” Holton said.
The findings suggest that future clinical trial research is needed to measure the impact of a combined lifestyle intervention on ADHD symptoms. It is possible that changing multiple lifestyle behaviors at once can lead to other healthy behaviors.
“For example, physical activity increases thirst, making water consumption more attractive. Physical activity can also offset screen time and can improve sleep. Similarly, removal of caffeinated beverages prevents their diuretic effect, helps increase water consumption, and can help prevent sleep disturbance,” Holton said.
“As research into health outcomes in children with ADHD continues to provide new insights, focusing on the overall number of healthy lifestyle behaviors may become important.”
Source: American University