Kids with ADHD at Risk for Eating Disorder

April 28, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may be more at risk for binge eating than their peers.

Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be more at risk for binge eating than their peers.

New research published in The International Journal of Eating Disorders examined 79 children aged 8 to 14 years who were over the fifth weight percentile.

The researchers’ results showed the odds of having a loss of control eating syndrome (LOC-ES) were 12 times higher for children with ADHD compared with those without ADHD. The children with LOC-ES also had a harder time demonstrating impulse control on performance-based neuropsychological assessments.

In addition, overweight or obese children with LOC-ES were 7 times more likely to have an ADHD diagnosis compared with those who were overweight or obese and did not present LOC-ES.

“These findings suggest a need to investigate possible shared mechanisms such as impulse control deficits, among children with LOC-ES and ADHD,” the researchers stated.

Children with ADHD had significantly greater body mass index (BMI) scores than those without ADHD, and children with LOC-ES had significantly greater BMI scores than those without LOC-ES. Among the group with ADHD, 70.5% had a LOC-ES diagnosis compared with 20% of children without ADHD.

Previous research has shown links between childhood obesity and ADHD, as well as impulsivity and childhood obesity, but the current study authors noted there is less information about impulsivity and children engaging in binge eating.

Binge eating was defined in the study as the inability to control what or how much food the individual consumes. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes binge eating as a disorder in which individuals eat significantly more food in a short period of time than most, and they may eat too quickly, even when they are not hungry. Common emotions related to binge eating include guilt, embarrassment, disgust, and distress, according to DSM-5.

One of the experiments to test impulse control involved children playing an 8-minute computer game. The game required the children to press the spacebar only when they saw green spaceships, and not when they saw red spaceships.

Children with LOC-ES were more likely to commit errors in the game, which points to decreased impulse control. The results showed the odds of having LOC-ES were 1.17 times higher with every 5 percentage point increase in the error rate from the spaceship game.

In addition to this experiment, parents were asked to rate their child’s behavior to get a measure of impulsivity. The parents’ ratings supported the idea that children with LOC-ES were more likely than those without LOC-ES to show deficits in response inhibition.

The researchers suggested addressing inhibitory control in children with LOC-ES and ADHD could be helpful in targeting obesity, as well.

“[T]hese findings suggest that examining issues of response control related to LOC-ES in ADHD should be considered with the goal of understanding both eating-specific and behavioral aspects of impulse control,” the authors concluded.