Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) exhibit symptoms of impulsivity, inattention, poor emotional regulation, and behavior issues. They often engage in repetitive activities and are easily distracted and fidgety. Although these high levels of energy expenditure would suggest that children with ADHD are at low risk for obesity, research indicates otherwise.
Some of the existing research on children with ADHD has demonstrated that these children are actually at increased risk for obesity, while other research is inconclusive. Until now, no study has looked at the reasons why ADHD children may be at risk and what can be done to decrease their vulnerability.
Loran McWilliams of the Division of Psychiatry at the University of Nottingham’s Institute of Mental Health in the UK recently conducted a study involving 424 children between the ages of 9 and 11. She looked at how physical activity, sedentary behavior, and ADHD were related to risk for obesity, and also evaluated teacher ratings of hyperactivity not diagnosed as ADHD.
She found that 39% of the children met criteria for obesity and that the boys in the study received more teacher ratings of hyperactivity and inattention than the girls. However, all of the children that were teacher-rated as inattentive or hyperactive had high levels of sedentary activity, while only the girls had increased physical activity. In other words, even though the boys were hyperactive, they actually engaged in less physical activity than nonhyperactive boys and girls.
When McWilliams reviewed the parent ratings of ADHD she found similar trends. These findings at first may appear contradictory, but McWilliams believes that they are in line with existing studies on sedentary behavior in ADHD children. She said, “This finding is supported by previous research, which illustrated that sedentary activity such as television viewing and video game playing were related to attention problems.”
Because more time is being devoted to these types of activities and less time to physical activity, interventions targeting ADHD children, especially those at risk for obesity, are critically needed. McWilliams hopes her study will open the door to further investigations into this area so that childhood obesity prevention efforts can be improved.
McWilliams, L., Sayal, K., Glazebrook, C. (2013). Inattention and hyperactivity in children at risk of obesity: A community cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 2013;3: e002871. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002871
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