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Kids with ADHD at risk for Obesity

We usually associate the impulsivity symptoms of ADHD with risky behavior that can lead to injury, accidents, or substance abuse. However, one of the most overlooked consequences of poor behavior regulation in ADHD children is impulsive eating, or eating patterns that may eventually lead to being overweight.    Researchers from Brown Medical School in Rhode Island discovered that children with ADHD are at high risk for being overweight or obese, whether or not they are taking medications for the disorder.   Previous research suggested that the impulsive behavior of kids with ADHD can place them at risk for unhealthy eating, but only now has this risk been measured quantitatively.

To investigate this phenomenon, the study's authors looked at the data of 62,887 children and teens from the National Survey of Children's Health.  Those with ADHD were identified based on the parents' answer to the question, "Has a physician or health care professional ever diagnosed your child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or attention deficit disorder?"  Based on their answers, 8.8% of the children survey had ADHD. Only half of them were taking stimulant medications to manage their symptoms.

After they made adjustments for gender, age, socio-economic status, and anxiety or depression, the authors discovered that kids and teens with ADHD were 1.5 times more likely to be overweight than those without.  Additionally, kids who were taking medications for ADHD were also more likely to be underweight compared to those who were not taking medications or who did not have the disorder.  The reduced appetite caused by ADHD medications can probably account for the tendency for medicated kids to be underweight.

Although the researchers did no further analysis beyond this, these findings suggest that ADHD and being overweight are definitely related.  Today's fast-paced modern lifestyle predisposes a child to developing ADHD – after sitting in a classroom for six or eight hours, he or she spends the rest of the day watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Internet.  This serious lack of exercise interferes with a child's motor development and the stimuli to the postural muscles, which is the brain's main source of stimulation.  If we compare the diet of the average child today to that of a child twenty years ago, you'll also notice an increase in fast food, junk food, candy, and soda marketed to children.   It's certainly no wonder that children these days are heavier and more likely to have ADHD.

One of the best ways to manage the symptoms of ADHD and prevent obesity is to put your child on the Feingold diet. Eliminate all foods containing artificial additives, colorings, and preservatives. Not only do these chemicals trigger the symptoms of ADHD, but they are usually found in calorie-rich processed foods.  The gluten-free casein-free diet can also reduce the likelihood of being overweight.  In this diet, all dairy and wheat products are removed, because they contain proteins that form opioid peptides. These substances promote inattention by sedating the brain. 

Kids can be very picky eaters, and an ADHD diet might not work right away.  Enrolling your child in a sport or encouraging outdoor playtime can also reduce a possible contributing factor to your child's ADHD.  Your child doesn't have to be on the school's varsity team to benefit from exercise; riding a bike or skateboarding will do the trick, as long as this activity is done at least 30 minutes a day.