Childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been associated with childhood and adult obesity, and stimulant use with delayed childhood growth, but the independent influences are unclear. No longitudinal studies have examined associations of ADHD diagnosis and stimulant use on BMI trajectories throughout childhood and adolescence.
We used longitudinal electronic health record data from the Geisinger Health System on 163 820 children ages 3 to 18 years in Pennsylvania. Random effects linear regression models were used to model BMI trajectories with increasing age in relation to ADHD diagnosis, age at first stimulant use, and stimulant use duration, while controlling for confounding variables.
Mean (SD) age at first BMI was 8.9 (5.0) years, and children provided a mean (SD) of 3.2 (2.4) annual BMI measurements. On average, BMI trajectories showed a curvilinear relation with age. There were consistent associations of unmedicated ADHD with higher BMIs during childhood compared with those without ADHD or stimulants. Younger age at first stimulant use and longer duration of stimulant use were each associated with slower BMI growth earlier in childhood but a more rapid rebound to higher BMIs in late adolescence.
The study provides the first longitudinal evidence that ADHD during childhood not treated with stimulants was associated with higher childhood BMIs. In contrast, ADHD treated with stimulants was associated with slower early BMI growth but a rebound later in adolescence to levels above children without a history of ADHD or stimulant use. The findings have important clinical and neurobiological implications.