Boys who are diagnosed with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are twice as likely to become obese in adulthood than those who did not have the condition when they were young, a new long-term study has shown.

The finding, published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that men who have childhood ADHD were more likely to have a greater body-mass index (BMI) and obesity – even when they no longer experience symptoms of the condition. Among these men, socioeconomic status did not matter – all seemed to have a predisposition to becoming obese.

Characteristics associated with ADHD, such as poor planning skills and impulse control may lead to poor eating habits and food choices and the tendency to overeat.

Study co-author Dr. Francisco Xavier Castellanos, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry in the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said:

“The bottom line is, boys who were hyperactive when followed up for more than 30 years turn out to be more likely to be obese than comparable kids from their same communities. That really seems to be reflective of their early hyperactivity. It doesn’t matter what their current diagnosis is so much, so we think these are longstanding issues that likely arose in early adolescence.”

The study followed 111 men diagnosed with ADHD during childhood, checking on them at the ages of 18, 25, and 41. By the time they researched adulthood, 41% had become obese – compared with 22% in a non-ADHD control group.

The authors suggest that the findings are somewhat confusing. Castellanos said:

“The pattern of results to a certain extent was counterintuitive. We thought we would get the strongest effect in those men who manifested ADHD as adults, and that wasn’t the case. That suggests that it’s not something that is very tightly related to the current diagnosis, but the tendency to have the diagnosis.”

Future studies will need to be counducted to see whether women with childhood ADHD are just as likely as men with childhood ADHD to become obese later in life, and whether controlling this condition through medication might make any difference.

ADHD is commonly known to be more prevalent in boys than girls, with 12% of U.S. boys aged 3 to 17 years being diagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There has been growing interest in the link between ADHD and obesity because greater rates of obesity have been documented in children with the disorder. This is an important health concern because obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases.

A study published in the International Journal of Obesity, supported the current results suggesting ADHD in childhood is linked to obesity – more symptoms children display – the higher their risk becomes.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald