ADHD is associated with obesity. Surprised?
The stereotype kid with ADHD is a wiry, energetic guy. He’s short, runs like mad on the playground, comes inside, grabs scissors and keeps running. Obesity is the last of his mom’s concerns. She’s struggling, actually, to keep weight on him. That stereotype, it turns out, misses the big picture.
Kids with ADHD come in every shape, size, gender and motor activity level. In the newborn nursery, future ADHD kids have more underweight problems than their non-ADHD nursery-mates. That would predict less obesity later in life, but not so. ADHD starts causing excess weight gain between ages 10 and 12. In adolescence and adult-hood, obesity rates are twice as high in ADHD.
ADHD adults in the US weigh 10 pounds more than the average already overweight US adult. Try placing one stick of butter lengthwise on top of another one until the stack is 4 feet high. That’s 10 pounds of butter. Have someone slather that all over you, then see how well your clothes fit.
When neuroscientists scan the brains of obese people, many of their findings parallel the findings of people with ADHD. Both groups, for example, show under-activity in the dorso-lateral pre-frontal cortex (DLPFC). You may need that bit of trivia at your next cocktail party to impress the curious folks gathered to watch you stack butter.
Diagnosed eating disorders such as binge eating and bulimia are increased in ADHD, but for simplicity here, we’re just talking about the typical bad habits of an average person with ADHD. Full disclosure, I have 10 pounds of ADHD extra weight and even more pounds of regular people extra weight. ADHD isn’t the source of all weight problems; it just worsens this common human condition.
Activity levels in ADHD are more complicated than the name ‘hyperactivity’ implies. Only a few kids with ADHD actually move more than average. Most fidget more but exercise less. Too much activity in the classroom, not enough at recess. It’s a self-control or modulation issue–an inability to match one’s activity level to the specific circumstance.
Likewise, the eating patterns of people with ADHD show diminished self-control with under-eating at some points, but over-eating at others. The behavioral controls that help us maintain weight have to fine tune a hundred decisions every day.
An extra one-eighth of an Oreo cookie (10 calories) per day adds one pound a year to our frames. NOT eating that 10 calories is a decision that is made a hundred times in a day. Say ‘No’ 99 times, then reward your self-control with two Oreos and you gain 15 pounds a year. ‘Almost perfect dieting’ is a contradiction in terms.
Cumulatively, the extra weight of all the ADHD adults in the US equals the weight of a US naval aircraft carrier. Try placing a 10 pound chunk of a giant battleship in a fanny pack and carrying it around all day That’s enough to make anyone’s butt look big.
I have been a principle investigator in many clinical trials of ADHD in children and adolescents. I was initially surprised when the data indicated that the average weight of the trial participants was way above their average weight.
After many trials with solar results, I realized that ADHD children , far from being underweight, had a greater problem with being overweight. And it is a greater problem as people with ADHD grow into adulthood.
I have anorexia dyslexia…I never think I’m fat enough. –Rosanne Barr
Very interesting article on ADHD. Thanks for publishing this information on ADHD. By Gregg L. Friedman MD