ADHD symptoms correlate with eating unhealthy food types

Lin Li
About the Author

Lin Li is a PhD candidate at the School of Medical Science, Örebro University in Grythyttan (Sweden) and works on the long-term influences of ADHD on nutrition and life-style factors.

What was the goal of your research or experiment?

Everyone has certain preferences and habits regarding the foods they generally eat and drink. This is called dietary habit. It is an important and modifiable lifestyle factor that might affect the development and functioning of our brain. Previous studies have reported that in children and adolescents, ADHD symptoms were associated with high consumption of refined sugar and saturated fat and low consumption of fruits and vegetables. However, it is unclear how ADHD symptoms associate with dietary habits in adults. Therefore, we aimed to identify and quantify the associations between ADHD symptom dimensions and different dietary habits in adults, stratified by age, gender and socioeconomic status. We also aimed to investigate whether genetic and environmental factors could explain the potential associations between adult ADHD symptoms and different dietary habits.

How did you measure or test this?

We explored these associations using 17,999 individuals aged 20–47 years from Study of Twin Adults: Genes and Environment (STAGE), one of the projects from Swedish twin register.

What were the main results or findings?

First, we found in adults, both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity symptom dimensions was associated with high consumption of seafood, high-fat, high-sugar, high-protein food, but low consumption of fruits and vegetables. All associations remained stable across age, sex and socioeconomic status. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute substantially to the observed associations.

What does this mean?

Among other things, adults with ADHD symptoms eat more sugar and saturated fat and less fruit and vegetables than individuals without ADHD symptoms. We have also been able to show that the connection between ADHD symptoms and dietary habits cannot be explained by age, gender and socio-economic background. That means that we need to increase our knowledge and awareness about dietary habits in people with ADHD.

What is the next step?

Further research is needed to find out in more detail the extent to which eating habits and diet affect the risk of physical illness, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity in people with ADHD. If eating habits and diet reduce the risk of physical illness, more knowledge may also be needed on how best to help people with ADHD with their diet.

More information

Here is a press release from Örebro University (in Swedish):

Related blogs:

Publication information

Title: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms and dietary habits in adulthood: A large population-based twin study in Sweden

Authors: Lin Li, Mark J. Taylor, Katarina Bälter, Ralf Kuja-Halkola, Qi Chen, Tor-Arne Hegvik, Ashley E. Tate, Zheng Chang, Alejandro Arias-Vásquez, Catharina A. Hartman, Henrik Larsson

Journal: American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics

Year: 2020