If we’re going to be serious about preventing and treating obesity, we’re going to also need to be serious about diagnosing and treating ADHD.
ADHD in not an obscure condition either. We all know it is common in childhood, but did you know that 1 in 20 adults have ADHD? Usually, undiagnosed of course. That’s 5% of all adults, nevertheless.
It’s highly genetic and is as heritable as height. If anyone in your immediate family has ADHD, the genetics are certainly there.
Among adults seeking weight loss treatment, the prevalence of ADHD is even higher. One of the first studies to investigate this, prevalence was found to be 27.4%. That’s more than 1 in 4 adults. The greater the weight the more likely someone has ADHD. Among patients with a BMI > 40 in this sample, the prevalence was 42.6%. That’s more than 1 in 3 adults.
Earlier this year Instagram and Tik-Tok pulled ads that were linking ADHD with obesity. Social media companies have been urged to crack down on medical claims that some say are misleading as well as those that violate their body image policies. Well, Tik-Tok and Instagram can’t shut down my blog and the association between ADHD and overweight/obesity is very clear.
In August 2015, the American Journal of Psychiatry published significant meta-analytic evidence for a significant association between ADHD and obesity/overweight. Compared to the general population, the risk of obesity among untreated adults with ADHD is 1.5x higher.
Compared to adults with treated ADHD, the risk of obesity among untreated adults with ADHD is 1.4x higher. When you treat ADHD, the risk disappears. Compared to the general population, the risk of obesity among treated adults with ADHD is the same (Odds ratio= 1.00).
So, what is going on? Why would ADHD cause weight gain? It comes down to neurobiology and how there is reduced dopamine signaling (reduced laying down of dopamine receptors to be exact) in certain parts of the brain that control motivation, behaviour control and decision making.
Poor motivation to exercise? Unable to focus and stay on track with weight loss treatments? Impulsive or distracted (boredom) eating, or “procastin”-eating? Yes, there are all examples of why we think it is linked to weight gain.
Here’s another reason. People with ADHD are known to be easily distracted. They need quiet places, and no distractions. Why are they easily distracted? Because they are constantly looking for stimulation. Subconsciously trying to increase their dopamine. For some people, they do this through food. Snacky, snacky throughout the day. They unknowingly are treating themselves, instead of being on real treatment.
Well, why wouldn’t we see the same phenomenon in children? You’re probably trying to reconcile a picture in your head of a child with ADHD who is “actively” bouncing off the walls? Well children don’t have incomes or free access to food. It’s in adulthood when the weight develops.
If we’re going to be serious about preventing and treating obesity, we’re also going to need to be serious about diagnosing and treating ADHD.