ADHD, BED and Obesity in US Adults

In my clinical practice I remain impressed by the surprisingly high incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in my obese patients. Many have had symptoms all their lives, many have kids diagnosed and treated for ADHD, but have never considered that they may have this condition themselves.

Long-time readers of this blog will recall several previous postings on this issue – there is little doubt that ADHD is a major handicap in dealing with a weight problem. Lack of impulse control, difficulty planning and following through on lifestyle changes, compliance problems – all make it difficult for someone with ADHD to tackle their weight problem.

But how close is the relationship between ADHD and obesity in the general population?

Based on previous observations that while ADHD affects ~2.9-4.7% of US adults, this condition is reported to be present in 26-61% of patients seeking weight loss treatment, Sherry Pagoto and colleagues from the University of Massachusetts, MA, USA, revisited this issue in a paper published in this month’s issue of OBESITY.

Using cross-sectional data from the Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys, which includes data from 6,735 US residents (63.9% white; 51.6% female) aged 18-44 years, a retrospective assessment of childhood ADHD and a self-report assessment of adult ADHD were administered.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity was 33.9 and 29.4%, respectively, among adults with ADHD, and 28.8 and 21.6%, respectively, among persons with no history of ADHD. Thus, adult ADHD was associated with a 58% greater likelihood of overweight and 81% greater likelihood of obesity.

Further analyses suggested that binge eating disorder (BED), but not depression, partially mediates the associations between ADHD and excess weight. This is not surprising, given that poor impulse control is likely to affect binge-eating behaviour.

The study underlines what I have long proposed: assessment for ADHD should be part of routine work up for obesity and weight-related health problems. When present, ADHD can pose a major barrier to obesity management and should be addressed by CBT and/or medications.

Edmonton, Alberta