The new findings come from research at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, which reveal that kids with ADHD are significantly more likely to have an eating disorder known as loss of control eating syndrome (LOC-ES). This disorder, which is akin to binge eating, is generally diagnosed only in adults.
Writing in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the research team noted that while many children with ADHD may lose weight when treated with the stimulant drugs regularly prescribed to control the condition, children with ADHD have also has been associated with overweight and obesity.
Dr Shauna Reinblatt, who led the study, added that while the cause of excessive weight gain has remained unclear, some experts have suggested a link between the hallmark impulsivity of ADHD and dysregulation or loss of control over appetite and food consumption.
“The goal of this study was to examine the associations between ADHD, LOC-ES, and impulse control deficits in children,” explained the team. “The findings from this cross-sectional study support our hypothesis that children with ADHD diagnoses had significantly increased odds of LOC-ES compared with children without ADHD.”
To investigate that possible connection between ADHD, overweight, and disordered eating patterns, Reinblatt and her colleagues recruited 79 children between the ages of 8 and 14 who underwent assessment that included objective measures and interviews.
The team incorporated parental reports to help diagnose or rule out ADHD or LOC-ES. Additionally, all participants underwent neuropsychological testing to measure how well they were able to control their impulses.
They reported that the odds of having LOC-ES were 12 times higher for children diagnosed with ADHD, compared with those without the disorder. Furthermore, those who were overweight or obese and had LOC-ES had seven times the odds of also having ADHD, compared with overweight or obese children without LOC-ES.
The Johns Hopkins’ research team said the findings point to a link between ADHD and disinhibited eating, although Reinblatt noted that the roots of the underlying connection remain obscure and require additional research.
"Our findings underscore the need for developing new treatment strategies that could help target disinhibited eating in kids who have both ADHD and LOC-ES," she said.