Living with an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis is tough enough on its own. The condition makes it hard for kids to succeed in school, interact well socially and often leads to friction with authority figures like teachers and parents. Now a study shows that girls with ADHD may also be at greater risk for forming an eating disorder, especially a binge-purge type disorder.
Symptoms Of ADHD
Kids with ADHD tend to have a hard time paying attention, demonstrate non-goal-oriented movements, are disorganized, over-talk and are frequently disruptive in class. Making and maintaining friendships is difficult. The condition is overwhelmingly dominated by boys but a small percentage of girls also suffer. Young girls with ADHD are often struggling with issues of self-worth and some of them turn to bulimia as a way to cope.
A University of Virginia study followed 228 racially diverse girls assessing them at ages six, 12, and 17. There were 140 of the girls with an ADHD diagnosis and another 88 young ladies were control subjects. The study found that girls with ADHD, especially girls with symptoms of poor attention and hyperactivity/impulsivity, were more apt to develop a binge-purge type eating disorder compared to girls without ADHD.
Factors That Lead Girls With ADHD To Eating Disorders
The girls were often the recipients of frustrated and critical parenting and were also often overweight. It is not hard to see why young girls might turn to disordered eating as a way to self-soothe and seek outside approval. In fact, the researchers said that girls with ADHD face a risk of not being diagnosed for their disorder precisely because they are so isolated.
The stimulant medications used to treat ADHD tend to lower a person’s appetite so there is also concern that the girls might be more prone to abuse their drugs in an effort to reduce weight. Even if they don’t abuse their ADHD medications, combining an appetite suppressant drug with a binge-purge eating behavior is a dangerous combination.
Boys More Likely To Have ADHD, Girls More Likely Though To Suffer From An Eating Disorder When They Have ADHD
On a final note, the study researchers pointed out that while boys tend to be more at risk for ADHD, girls are sharply more at risk for eating disorders. Somewhere around five percent of kids in school will be diagnosed with ADHD and boys are three times more at risk for the condition than girls. On the other hand, girls are 10 times more at risk for developing an eating disorder than are boys.
Given that ADHD affects boys so much more than girls, there are few long-range studies which have tracked how the illness unfolds in the lives of girls. This study is one of the first to examine the longer range impact of ADHD on girls. More research is needed. Meanwhile, those around young girls with ADHD need to be alert to the danger of a potential eating disorder.