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Females with childhood ADHD at double the risk for obesity

Greater recognition of the difference in how ADHD manifests in girls and boys could help with diagnosis, so patients can start preventive measures for obesity earlier.

By Stephen Feller
The link between childhood ADHD and adult obesity was not seen in boys, and stimulant medications used to treat ADHD did not have any effect on the rates of obesity among adult women. Photo by Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock
The link between childhood ADHD and adult obesity was not seen in boys, and stimulant medications used to treat ADHD did not have any effect on the rates of obesity among adult women. Photo by Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock

ROCHESTER, Minn., Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was linked to a doubled risk of adult obesity for females but not males in a recent study by Mayo Clinic.

The long-term study looked at weight gain in boys and girls who were diagnosed with ADHD as children, finding the risk for obesity in girls was present regardless of stimulant treatment for ADHD.

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The research follows previous studies showing ADHD manifests differently in girls, and is often is misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.

"Females with ADHD are at risk of developing obesity during adulthood, and stimulant medications used to treat ADHD do not appear to alter that risk," said Dr. Seema Kumar, a pediatrician and reseachers at the Mayo Clinic, in a press release.

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For the study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers followed 336 boys and girls diagnosed with ADHD as children and 665 children matched by age and sex who did not have ADHD from 1976 to 2010 while Mayo treated them.

Women diagnosed with ADHD as children, regardless of treatment with a stimulant medication, were more than twice as likely to develop obesity as adults than women not diagnosed, the researchers reported. The association wasn't found for boys, they said.

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Kumar said the study suggests girls be counseled as children, when diagnosed with ADHD, to do things to prevent becoming obese, such as maintaining a healthier diet and an active lifestyle. She also said doctors need to be more sensitive to the differences between boys and girls.

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One study in 2015 showed stark differences in the rate of diagnosis between the sexes, and another in 2012 said the difference in severity of symptoms between boys and girls at different ages could be vastly different.

In boys, ADHD is often characterized more by hyperactivity, while in girls it is often marked by being easily distracted and issues with depression, and so can often be missed.

"The outcomes for girls are horrendously negative compared to boys," Dr. Ellen Littman, a clinical psychologist, told Quartz. "This is not about having trouble with their homework."

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