July 2, 2021
An Israeli team compared eating habits and body mass index(BMI) in adults with and without ADHD. They recruited 60 students from Hebrew University in Jerusalem between 20 and 30 years old. To avoid bias due to particular diets, the authors excluded vegetarians and vegans, as well as persons with chronic diseases that require altered diets, such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, and chronic kidney disease. Twenty-nine of the participants had been diagnosed with ADHD.
All participants filled out the Food Frequency Questionnaire, a semi-quantitative scale querying about 119 food items. Based on World Health Organization guidelines, it distinguished between "healthy" items (such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and minimally processed foods)and "unhealthy" ones (such as cookies, processed meats, and other processed foods). The data obtained from the questionnaires were linked to a nutrient database to estimate daily nutrient intake. BMI was calculated from heights and weights reported by the students.
No significant differences were found between the two groups for servings, calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Yet, the ratio of healthy to unhealthy portions was significantly higher among controls than among those with ADHD. Those without ADHD consumed about a quarter more servings of healthy food and about a quarter fewer servings of unhealthy food.
On average, BMI levels were about 13 percent higher in participants with ADHD than among those without, meaning they were significantly more likely to be overweight. This finding is consistent with many prior studies.
The authors concluded, "Although participants in both groups consumed similar amounts of servings, calories, and nutrients, students with ADHD reported eating lower amounts of healthy food and higher amounts of unhealthy food. The results suggest that ADHD is not associated with general overeating, but with a biased proportion of unhealthy versus healthy food consumption."
They also recognized limitations to their study. One was a relatively small sample size and the fact that all participants were recruited from a single university. Another is that they did not try to fully evaluate the effects of medication, other than to note the absence of significant differences in food choices between those who used medication regularly and those who used it only occasionally. An unrecognized limitation was the exclusive reliance on self-reporting, both for food consumption, weight, and height.
Despite these limitations, this study is an important first step toward understanding the eating habits of people with ADHD. It suggests to me that those treating ADHD should promote healthy lifestyles, as that should reduce ADHD's known risks of obesity and adverse medical outcomes.
Shirley Hershko, AnnaAronis, Adina Maeir, Yehuda Pollak, "Dysfunctional Eating Patterns of Adults With Attention DeficitHyperactivity Disorder,"TheJournalofNervousandMentalDisease(2018), vol.206, no. 11, 870-874.