It’s the ADHD meds that may be making you fat. March 23 2014

Medical studies in the past have found a link between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity (link to other blog).  This research suggests behavioral characteristics of ADHD, such as impulsivity and lack of self-control with foods, combined with too little physical activity may be the main reason for weight gain later on in life.  Poor diet and little exercise seems to be an issue for most people in the United States so you might assume that ADHDers are just part of a non-ADHD trend and that everyone seems to be getting obese.  New research shows that its not just being ADHD, but the type of ADHD-treatment given that lead to obesity.

In a 13-year long study that involved 163,820 children aged 3 to 18 years old, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health revealed that it’s the use of ADHD prescription medications that cause obesity later in life. It provides the first longitudinal evidence that shows stimulant medications used to treat ADHD caused children to have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than their peers during childhood.  As ADHD children using stimulant medications got older though, their weight gain and BMI was higher than peers using natural treatments.  This demonstrates that it’s ADHD children on stimulant medications that are most prone to developing obesity.

The fact that 90% of children use prescription medications as a first treatment plan is concerning.  In addition to the long list of potential side effects related to ADHD prescription medications, patients might have to start worrying about how to avoid getting fat while they take their pills.  Scientists added that further research is needed in order to create obesity prevention strategies for children with ADHD.

Reviewing any solution that does not have side effects should be a high priority when you are reviewing treatment plans for ADHD.  Nutrition, lifestyle and behavior therapies are all natural treatment options.  They may take a bigger commitment than simply taking a pill every day, but each promotes healing at a deeper level than just fixing the side effects of ADHD.  Nutrition and lifestyle decisions can help balance the physiological factors that relate to ADHD and behavioral therapy can help teach important life skills. 

If stimulant medications are the choice for treatment, be mindful of decreasing the dose as much as you can.  As the dose of ADHD drugs is lowered, the potential for negative side effects decreases too.  It’s been shown combining nutrition and behavioral therapies with a low-dose medication plan is very effective. 

Written by Melissa Warner




Attention Deficit Disorder, Stimulant Use, and Childhood Body Mass Index Trajectory, doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-3427, Brian S. Schwartz et al., published in Pediatrics, 17 March 2014. Abstract
"Stimulants Used to Treat ADHD Influence BMI Growth Patterns Through Childhood With a BMI Rebound in Late Adolescence.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, accessed 17 March 2014.