What’s Behind the ADHD-Overweight Connection?

ADHD symptoms

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also known as attention deficit disorder (ADD), is known for certain hallmark characteristics, such as the inability to pay attention, stay organized, control impulses, or follow through with tasks. Those who are affected by this neurodevelopmental disorder are also more likely to experience additional issues in many areas of life, leading to outcomes like depression, substance abuse, suicide, burnout, and even an increase in car accidents. ADD/ADHD also increases the risk for physical conditions, and new researchers suggest it can lead to being overweight or obese.

These consequences are a growing concern since 9.4% of children between the ages of 2 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Among adults, 5.4% of men and 3.2% of women have ADD/ADHD—but only about 20% of them have been diagnosed or received treatment. In fact, this condition is often overlooked in females.

A new review of 16 studies points to the reality that kids with ADD/ADHD have a much greater likelihood of being overweight or obese. Click To Tweet


A new review of 16 studies points to the reality that kids with ADD/ADHD have a much greater likelihood of being overweight or obese. The recent review, published in 2023 in Childhood Obesity, looked at the risk of overweight and obesity in nearly 15,000 children and adolescents with ADD/ADHD. It found that “children with ADHD had a significant risk for co-occurring overweight and obesity,” especially among boys, people in Asia and Europe, and patients not using medication.

“ADHD has a significant association with overweight and obesity in both children and adolescents, which may be altered by factors such as geography, gender, and medication use,” the researchers concluded. They therefore recommended early treatment to young people who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, so that they may be monitored and assisted to avoid these additional weight-related concerns.

This is one of a long list of physical impacts associated with ADD/ADHD, an illness that can lead to everything from school and workplace problems to incarceration. That’s because the range of ADD/ADHD’s typical symptoms can create the perfect storm for compromised decision-making, including unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle choices.


Brain SPECT scans have shown that, among those with ADD/ADHD, there is low activity in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that is involved with focus, attention, concentration, goal-setting, planning, organization, and impulse control. Here are 5 common ADD/ADHD symptoms that might contribute to being overweight or obese:

1. Short attention span.

When it comes to performing regular, everyday tasks, those with ADD/ADHD may struggle to stick with healthy diet and exercise routines. They may consider them “boring” and prefer to have more stimulation or excitement in their day so they can remain interested. On the plus side, this information can be used to create more appealing exercise regimens: Because they’re more likely to enjoy tasks that are new, novel, interesting, highly stimulating, or even frightening, those with ADD/ADHD might enjoy nonrisky sports or frequently changing up exercise routines to hold their attention over the long haul. Experts have suggested that exercises that work both body and brain—activities like martial arts or mountain biking, for example—and can be done outdoors may be great options. In addition, exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on the functioning of those with ADD/ADHD.

2. Procrastination.

When everything can be put off until later—a “later” that often never arrives—it’s easy to avoid tasks like regular exercise. In other cases, mindless or stress eating can be used as a way to delay doing a task that requires completion. Unfortunately, this habit creates a vicious cycle of unhealthy outcomes: A recent study among Swedish university students found that procrastination led to a wide array of adverse results, from depression, anxiety, and stress to unhealthy lifestyle behaviors like poor sleep quality and physical inactivity.

3. Disorganization.

Organizing their time and space can feel like a real uphill battle for those with ADD/ADHD. Lateness, completing tasks on time, working last minute, and keeping physical spaces tidy are all challenges that fall under this category. As such, it can be difficult to pre-plan healthy meals, so it’s easier to grab the closest and most convenient thing, which could be junk food, fast food, and ultra-processed foods. Even worse, these kinds of foods, part of the standard American diet for many, have been linked to an increased risk of receiving an ADD/ADHD diagnosis.

4. Distractibility.

When it comes to sitting down and planning a fitness schedule or a healthier diet, those with ADD/ADHD can easily find themselves taken off track. That’s because they tend to take in more environmental cues than other people—making them more easily distracted by stimuli, such as light, sounds, smells, tastes, etc. This tendency can be counteracted by clear goal setting, including writing down tasks and to-dos so they are completed regularly and on time, followed by reminders to double-check completion. As an upside, making healthy changes in both diet and exercise can improve attention-related symptoms of ADD/ADHD.

5. Poor internal supervision.

Many people with ADD/ADHD struggle with judgment and impulse control, leading them to have a larger chance of issues like substance abuse. As we now know that many ultra-processed foods in the standard American diet trigger the same addictive-type responses as drugs like cocaine, food can also fall under this category. People with ADD/ADHD also have a harder time learning from their mistakes, which may make them more apt to repeat errors in diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices. In one study, they were also found to be more likely to engage in harmful behaviors like binge eating.


Despite examining various contributing factors, even researchers have admitted that, in 20-plus years of studying the links between ADD/ADHD and obesity (which may be even stronger in adults than children/adolescents), there is more work to be done. Furthermore, scientists ask, is it that ADD/ADHD is more likely to contribute to obesity, or are the effects of obesity, such as increased inflammation, leading to increased ADD/ADHD symptoms? In the future, further studies will help provide answers.

Even now, there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings around ADD/ADHD, but we are making strides in understanding its workings, which can help in preventing further detrimental effects, such as instances of overweight and obesity. For example, did you know there are 7 types of ADD/ADHD? It’s crucial to first learn what type is at work, and a brain SPECT scan can be instrumental in identifying the type and finding the most effective treatment. Then taking the appropriate steps, including many natural ADD/ADHD solutions and/or medications (if needed), can be truly life-changing.

ADD/ADHD and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Thank you for the milestones you contribute and research on the subject. Do you still have limited access to child psych? I tried to reach out last year and after two intake interviews, I received emails on OTC supplements I can buy from you, but no response in the ability for scans available to children. Thank you again. Therese Cagle

    Comment by Therese Cagle — May 22, 2023 @ 4:31 AM

  2. This article totally describes my adult granddaughter. The challenge is she refused to take any steps that will bring her ADHD under control.

    Comment by Kathy Sullivan — May 22, 2023 @ 4:38 AM

  3. This I know. Now what do we do about it????

    Comment by Shelley G — May 22, 2023 @ 5:18 AM

  4. You forgot one of the most important things: ADHD persons have extreme difficulty with plannng. One must plan ahead–plan to feed oneself–to eat well. Inability to do so lead to extreme hunger and therefore impulse eating, which leads to junk food eating. Help them by teaching them to plan to feed themselves, every day, 3 times/ day plus possibly snack.

    Comment by Janet DaPrato — May 22, 2023 @ 6:37 AM

  5. Hello Therese, thank you for reaching out. Amen Clinics has child and adolescent psychiatrists on staff: https://www.amenclinics.com/team/. We currently have 11 locations nationwide: https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/. For more information, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 22, 2023 @ 1:49 PM

  6. This is totally me and my weight struggles. Need to add eating to medicate as well. I find I do best when I have a friend that is really into exercise and nutrition, I sort of piggy back off of them and then I’m able to be more stable. All of my close friends are the opposite of me, I check in with them before making big decisions to check my thinking. I’m 50, its gotten easier to manage as I age, but it’s ALWAYS exhausting and difficult.

    Comment by Mindy — May 22, 2023 @ 6:16 PM

  7. Have you contemplated that these people might simply need healthier environments grounded in nature? Environments that do not overstimulate them chronically and don't push them over the edge.
    Instead of always putting the onus on the person's "choices", "decisions", "responsability", and expecting of them that they adapt their body-brain-mind to the societal environments, unhealthy for the majority of people (those without the money to buy their way into a piece of quiet land ), maybe, those who do well in these environments (jobs, income, social suport networks…) and do not fall for the substances/foods that are pushed onto everybody in youth, could DO something to advocate for better environments, more friendly to biolife of human beings, including those with ADD- ADHD and so many others. Expecially the psychiatric and medical professions.
    Not everyone has the opportunity to make "good choices".

    Comment by dr Marika Bouchon — May 24, 2023 @ 1:18 AM

  8. Poor Diet (The brains [brain organ & gut] need what the brains need), exercise (discipline), internet (constant distraction / impacts focus).
    Sadly, this is the 1st generation where convincing children to go OUT requires more effort than convincing them to stay IN the house.

    Comment by Ronald Mondor — May 31, 2023 @ 6:07 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us