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ADHD Drugs Linked to Later Weight Gain in Kids

Study found 'rebound' effect in children who stopped using stimulants, which may increase obesity risk later
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Brenda Goodman

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tend to gain more weight than their peers as they enter their teen years, a new study finds.

The weight differences seem to be most pronounced for kids who had taken stimulant medications to control their symptoms, suggesting that there might be something about the drugs themselves that aggravate the problem, the researchers said.

"The reason we think it is more likely to be the drugs than the diagnosis is because the earlier the drugs were started and the longer the drugs were used, the stronger the effects," said study author Dr. Brian Schwartz, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore.

"If you agree with the reports that stimulants may be over-prescribed, then this is another important cost of that over-treatment -- kids who have dramatic changes in their growth trajectories during and after the treatment," Schwartz said.

For the study, which was published online March 17 and in the April print issue of the journal Pediatrics, Schwartz and his team pored over medical records kept by a large Pennsylvania HMO. Records on more than 160,000 children who were between the ages of 3 and 18 were included in the study, and some were followed for as long as 12 years.

About 8 percent of the children had received a diagnosis of ADHD. Nearly 7 percent of those kids had been prescribed stimulants to treat their symptoms.

On average, kids in the study had three annual body-mass index (BMI) measurements recorded. BMI is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. Researchers used the BMI measures to model their projected growth over time.

They found that kids with an ADHD diagnosis who had not taken any medication to treat their symptoms started growing larger than their peers without the disorder as early as age 10.

Adding a stimulant medication changed that picture, however. Kids who took stimulants such as Ritalin and Concerta initially lagged behind their unmedicated peers on the growth charts. Children who were medicated the longest were about one to two BMI points smaller than their peers at age 10, Schwartz said.

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