ADHD Treatment May Increase Risk of Obesity

Italian TeenagersPrevious research on ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has suggested that children with the disorder have an increased risk of becoming obese and sedentary teenagers compared to children without the disorder. Now a new study from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland suggests that the increased risk of obesity may be a result of ADHD treatments rather than the disorder.

ADHD is a behavior disorder characterized by not being able to focus, being overactive, not being able control behavior, or a combination of the three symptoms. Although no cure exists for the disorder, stimulant medication is commonly used to help manage symptoms.

Until the present study, no longitudinal studies existed on the effects of ADHD medications on weight gain.

For the present study, the researchers assessed whether stimulant use for the treatment of children and adolescents with ADHD effected body mass index (BMI) by looking at electronic health record data from the Gesinger Health System involving 163,820 children between the ages of 3 and 18.

According to the study, children and teens with ADHD had faster BMI growth in childhood compared to peers without the disorder. However, children with ADHD who received stimulant medications during childhood had slower BMI growth in early childhood but rapid BMI growth later in adolescence compared to children without ADHD and children with the disorder who did not receive medication.

Furthermore, the early the medication for ADHD was started, the stronger the effects on BMI.

In other words, although ADHD does appear to increase the risk of obesity, stimulant medications commonly used to treat the disorder have a greater effect on BMI than ADHD alone.

Summarize the researchers:

“The study provides the first longitudinal evidence that ADHD during childhood not treated with stimulants was associated with higher childhood BMIs. In contrast, ADHD treated with stimulants was associated with slower early BMI growth but a rebound later in adolescence to levels above children without a history of ADHD or stimulant use. The findings have important clinical and neurobiological implications.”

The findings of the present study indicate that further research is necessary in order to create obesity prevention strategies for children with ADHD — both medicated and unmedicated.


ADHD Treatment Linked to Increased Obesity Risk:
Association Between Childhood ADHD and Obesity:

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