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  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common disorder that affects millions of children in the United States.
  • About 62% of U.S. children with ADHD manage the condition with medication.
  • Researchers have found that eating more fruit and vegetables may reduce inattention in children with ADHD.
  • The study also showed eating less refined grain was linked to increased inattention in the same group of children.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder.

In the United States, 6.1 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to a 2016 study carried out by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The condition also impacts adults. An estimated 4.4% of U.S. adults live with ADHD, and the diagnosis rates are rising.

Children with ADHD may be hyperactive and fidget, constantly running, jumping, or climbing. They may also find it challenging to pay attention, follow instructions, and get easily distracted.

With early diagnosis and treatment plans, ADHD can be managed. According to CDC data, 62% of U.S. children manage the condition with medication, while less than half have received behavioral treatment.

Experts say ADHD is a significant public health concern linked with poor academic, social, and economic outcomes and an increased risk of time spent in hospital and injury.

A recent study led by researchers at the Ohio State University has suggested that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables may help reduce inattention in children ages 6-12 with symptoms of ADHD.

The study published in Nutritional Neuroscience sought to understand how the quality of a child’s diet affected their attention levels.

The researchers analyzed data from the larger Micronutrients for ADHD in Youth (MADDY) study that included 134 children ages 6-12. They used questionnaires to collect background information on the children, including ethnicity, race, parent/guardian occupation and level of education, and family income.

Diet intake and quality were measured using a digital food frequency questionnaire, where a high score indicates better adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Diet quality was based on the Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015).

To access ADHD and mood, researchers also used surveys such as the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.

Researchers found that overall diet quality was not associated with the severity of the symptoms experienced by the children. They said the “relatively good baseline diet quality and mild symptom severity” may explain the findings as the children in the study had higher HEI scores (63.4) than the general U.S. child population of a similar age (HEI 53.9).

It highlighted that those eating more fruits and vegetables had reduced symptoms of inattention.

Interestingly, the research showed that eating less refined grains increased inattention in children with ADHD. The authors explained this might be due to the fortification of refined grains with iron and nutrients.

“Eating a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables, maybe one way to reduce some of the symptoms of ADHD,” said Dr. Irene Hatsu, associate professor and co-author of the study.

“Everyone tends to get irritated when they’re hungry and kids with ADHD are no exception. If they’re not getting enough food, it could make their symptoms worse,” Dr. Hatsu explained.

The study was limited due to the small number of children involved, and the use of dietary intake questionnaires includes an error of measurement. Despite this, the findings suggest that diet may potentially change inattention in children with ADHD.