Differences in lifestyle habits between children with and without ADHD

Lisa Reijmers
About the Author

Lisa Reijmers, MSc, works at Karakter Child and Youth Psychiatry (Nijmegen, The Netherlands) for the TRACE-project, which focuses on a dietary treatment for children with ADHD. Besides that she works at the Radboud University Nijmegen as a project coordinator for a research project focused on bilingualism.

children learning

There is an increasing interest in lifestyle factors and their impact on mental health. Lifestyle factors refer to behaviors that have an impact on your health and quality of life [1]. Examples of lifestyle factors are physical activity, diet, sleep behavior and use of tobacco and alcohol. Different lifestyle factors have been proposed as precursors or consequences of ADHD [2]. Therefore one might wonder: how do children and adolescents with ADHD differ from children and adolescents without ADHD on several lifestyle factors?

In one study [3] parents were asked to fill out a lifestyle questionnaire about, among other things, the intake of water and sweetened drinks, screen time, physical activity and sleep of their child. The results showed that children with ADHD have fewer healthy behaviors than children without ADHD. Children with ADHD were more likely to drink artificially sweetened juice, were more likely to report more than 2 hours of screen time a day and reported fewer hours of physical activity. Parents of children with ADHD also reported more often that their child had trouble falling asleep.

Researchers of another study [4] interviewed parents of children with ADHD and parents of children without ADHD. The interviews focused on the eating habits of children. The results showed that children with ADHD skip breakfast and dinner more often than children without ADHD. Besides that the researchers found that children with ADHD eat less fruits and vegetables compared to children without ADHD. Another difference was that children with ADHD drink more sweetened drinks.

Another lifestyle factor is sleep behavior. When looking at sleep, research [5] using sleep diaries and ActiGraphs shows that adolescents with ADHD sleep less than their peers without ADHD. Furthermore, children with ADHD reported more daytime sleepiness themselves and their parents reported higher rates of difficulties with falling asleep and maintaining sleep.  

It can be concluded that there are some differences in lifestyle factors when you compare children and adolescents with and without ADHD. Children with ADHD are less likely to have a healthy lifestyle [3] and these children will probably benefit from changing their current lifestyle to a more healthy one. Therefore it is important to talk about this when working with youth with ADHD and try to help them with making improved lifestyle choices.  

[1]  Lianov, L., & Johnson, M. (2010). Physician competencies for prescribing lifestyle medi­cine. JAMA, 304, 202-203. DOI:10.1001/jama.2010.903

[2] Lange, K. W. (2018). Lifestyle and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Movement and Nutrition in Health and Disease, 2, 22–30. DOI: 10.5283/mnhd.10

[3] Holton, K.F., & Nigg, J.T. (2020). The association of lifestyle factors and ADHD in children. J Atten Disord, 24, 1511 – 1520. DOI: 10.1177/1087054716646452

[4] Ptacek, R., Kuzelova, H., Stefano, G. B., Raboch, J., Sadkova, T., Goetz, M., et al. (2014). Disruptive patterns of eating behaviors and associated lifestyles in males with ADHD. Medical science monitor: international medical journal of experimental and clinical research, 20, 608 –  613. DOI: 10.12659/MSM.890495

[5] Becker, S. P., Langberg, J. M., Eadeh, H., Isaacson, P. A., & Bourchtein, E. (2019). Sleep and Daytime Sleepiness in Adolescents with and without ADHD: Differences across Ratings, Daily Diary, and Actigraphy.  J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 60(9), 1021–1031. DOI:10.1111/jcpp.13061.