A new study has suggested that children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are more likely than other children to also have loss of control eating syndrome – a condition similar to binge eating disorder. The finding suggests the two conditions may share a common biological mechanism.
The research, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, could potentially lead to the development of treatment that works for both conditions.
Although many children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) lose weight when taking stimulant drugs to treat their condition, experts have found associations between ADHD and overweight and obesity.
Data have also linked ADHD with adult binge eating disorder. However, there are limited data in children with loss of control eating syndrome (LOC-ES) – a condition that shares many of the same diagnostic criteria as binge eating disorder and is typified by an inability to stop eating at certain times.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that, as of 2011, approximately 11% of children in the US aged 4-17 (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD. The common behavioral disorder is characterized by hyperactivity, impulsive behavior and difficulty sustaining attention.
Experts believe that the cause of excessive weight in some children with ADHD may be attributable to a connection between the impulsivity that typifies ADHD and a loss of control over food consumption.
For the study, Dr. Shauna Reinblatt, assistant professor in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and colleagues assessed 79 children aged 8-14 to see whether such a connection exists.
Each participating child was assessed with a number of tests, interviews and parental reports in order to diagnose or discount ADHD and LOC-ES. Neuropsychological tests were also conducted to measure how well the participants were able to control their impulses.
The researchers found the children diagnosed with ADHD were 12 times more likely to have LOC-ES in comparison with children that did not have ADHD. Children that were overweight or obese and had LOC-ES were seven times more likely to also have ADHD compared with overweight or obese children who did not have LOC-ES.
Additionally, the impulse control test results suggested that the likelihood of a child having LOC-ES increased incrementally the less control they had over their impulses.
These findings imply there may be a link between ADHD and disinhibited eating. However, Dr. Reinblatt states that there are a number of possible explanations for the results of the study.
Children with both ADHD and LOC-ES may be affected by a more severe form of ADHD that involves greater levels of impulsivity that particularly influence eating patterns, she suggests. Another possible explanation is that children with both disorders may have an underlying risk factor common to ADHD and LOC-ES, such as a genetic predisposition to impulsive behavior.
While the underlying connection between ADHD and LOC-ES remains unknown, Dr. Reinblatt believes that clinicians should screen children for disinhibited eating behaviors alongside ADHD until further research has been conducted.
“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,” Dr. Reinblatt concludes.
Recently, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested children with ADHD learn better if they are allowed to fidget, with many needing to move to maintain alertness.