A long-term study that followed people with ADHD over 3 decades found a link between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity. In their weekly conversation, WHYY’s behavioral health reporter Maiken Scott and psychologist Dan Gottlieb discuss this study, and also explore its impact on people living with the disorder.
The obesity findings came as a surprise to researchers. The study was about tracking the life-long impact of ADHD on people, NYU researchers started with a group of boys when they were about 8, and also had a control group of boys who did not have ADHD. They then tracked them over the course of time, taking data at different times. The last study, when the subjects were about 41, was supposed to include a brain scan – and that’s when scientists found that so many of the men couldn’t fit into the scanner. They then did a scientific evaluation of their weight, and found that those with ADHD were twice as likely to be obese than their peers without the disorder.
The study didn’t establish that ADHD causes obesity, of course, but some of the thinking is that people with ADHD have trouble with impulse control, and value short-term satisfaction over long term positive effects.
WHYY’s Don Henry wrote an essay for NewsWorks about the impact of this research on him. He described how science like this has helped him cope with this disorder. Henry was not diagnosed with ADHD until he was 40, and he writes in this essay:
“That diagnosis, in fact, divided my life in two unequal parts. Part One was the 40 years of beating myself up for lacking the “grit” to fix my many attentional “flaws.” In those years, I remember just waiting for the next time I would disappoint someone important to me. Again and again that time came.
“Part Two started with my diagnosis and is still in its infancy. At its heart has been learning to finally show myself some compassion for “failing” at many tasks that normally wired brains seem optimized for.
“For me, this new study fits into a larger effort of learning to pay attention to what really makes me tick.”