Western Diet Increases Risk Of ADHD In Teens

Western Diet Increases Risk Of ADHD In Teens
Western Diet Increases Risk Of ADHD In Teens

Could diet be part of the reason so many kids today are being diagnosed with ADHD? Parents of children with Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have the challenge of helping their young one deal with impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattention, which can create difficulties for the child in school and social situations. ADHD is diagnosed in 3% to 7% of school-aged children, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the most diagnosed childhood mental health problem, identifying causes and treatment of ADHD is imperative. Now, a recent study suggests that diet may play a role, as it indicated that teenagers with ADHD were more likely to consume a so-called “Western-style” diet.

Researchers from Australia looked at the diets of 1,799 adolescents who have been followed since birth as part of the Raine Cohort Study. At the 14-year follow-up point, they collected data regarding the teens’ current diets and whether they had been diagnosed with ADHD by a health professional. Based on the foods consumed, two major dietary patterns emerged: “Western” and “Healthy.” The “Western” pattern was characterized by a high intake of total fat, saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and folate. Major food groups included take-out, sweets, red and processed meats, refined grains, full-fat dairy, and soda. Conversely, the “healthy” dietary pattern was primarily comprised of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and non-fried fish.

Of all the adolescents, 115 had been clinically diagnosed with ADHD. The researchers found that the adolescents who consumed the “Western” diet were 2.2 times more likely to have ADHD than their counterparts who consumed the “healthy” diet. Additionally, it appeared that the whole “Western” dietary pattern had a stronger association with an ADHD diagnosis than any one (or more) of its individual parts.

If the association indeed holds true in future research, why might this dietary pattern be associated with ADHD?  Previous studies have indicated that optimal brain and nervous system function could be negatively influenced by a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients, and/or high in food additives, flavors, and colors. Each of these is, to some degree, characteristic of a “Western” diet.

In addition to diet, the researchers found other factors that might have an effect on ADHD. If the mother had three or more stressful events while pregnant, the child was twice as likely to have ADHD. Conversely, if the child was physically active at least twice per week outside of school, they were less likely to be diagnosed.

It is important to keep in mind that this study’s analysis was just a snapshot in time, so it can’t conclusively say that a Western-style diet causes ADHD; it only points to a possible association. The researchers also pointed out that the association could be bi-directional. That is, it could be that the impulsiveness of an ADHD teenager leads them to select more unhealthy foods.

With a plethora of research indicating the harm of a typical “Western” diet, it couldn’t hurt to try a healthier approach. While research does not yet tell us whether doing so can actually prevent your child from getting ADHD or reduce their symptoms if they already have been diagnosed, the other health benefits of a nutrient-rich diet certainly make this approach a worthwhile one to try.

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  • I doubt that a Western diet causes ADHD. More likely is that parents raising a child with ADHD are more harried and overwhelmed and taking the time to shop, prepare and cook fresh, healthy food is just too much. When your child won’t get out of bed in the morning, fights about brushing his teeth, won’t do homework and won’t go to bed at night, the last thing parents have on their mind is finding good with Omegas 3s and fish oil. Fast food, pizza, frozen meals and pre-made foods are easier and give parents one less battle to fight. Parents should not be looking in the kitchen to solve ADHD problems, and neither should researchers. Look to parenting skills and how well disciplined the parents are in using behavior modification. Wouldn’t it be nice if parents did not have to actually parent and all they had to do was choose the right foods? This type of research ignores the psychological and behavioral aspects of ADHD and gives false hope to parents that they can change their child by changing what they put in their grocery cart. Raising an ADHD child takes a lot of work…at home, not in your grocers’s market. Susan Ashley, PH.D. Author of The ADD & ADHD Answer Book: Professional Answers to the Top 275 Questions Parents Ask.

  • My 11-year-old son has autism, which has many similarities with ADHD. By putting him on a gluten-free diet, we brought his grade average from a D average to an A/B average, adjusted for his disability, of course. Before going gluten-free, he had incidents of violence almost daily. I’m happy to report that he has been gluten-free for 3 years, and hasn’t had a fight with another child in 15 months.

    I can’t say this is completely due to the lack of gluten in his diet. By going gluten-free, we automatically eliminated most processed foods, including baked items, snack foods, thick sauces and puddings, about 30% of candies, and some “juice” drinks. We also stopped eating out, with the exception of a few safe restaurants. I began cooking everything from scratch because it was much less expensive than buying specialty products. By doing this, we also eliminated most of the colorants and preservatives in his diet.

    After seeing such an improvement in my son, we decided to try it with my 9-year-old daughter, who is “normal” but highly emotional and easily upset. After removing the gluten from her diet (and the other crud I mentioned above,) she has been able to control her emotions much better. She has been gluten-free for over 18 months and has only had one incolsolable tempter tantrum since.

    I agree with Drashley that it isn’t so much diet as parenting. But good parenting includes recognizing positive and negative factors in the child’s life. And as Western culture is finally realizing, diet is a very powerful influence in aspects other than our physical selves.

    Good article. It doesn’t offer a ton of information, but it’s a step in the right direction and outlines something I’ve been advocating for years. Thank you.

  • Despite the fact that we allowed little or no sugar in our children’s diets (soda? unheard of!), eat little red meat, and lots of whole grains, my son has ADD. I agree wit Drashley that diet is not the answer.

  • So what is a non-western diet? TOFU and bean sprouts, yuck … Well Non-westerns have ADHD too and they don’t eat a western diet. We eat chicken and f ish and eat lots of salades, and we wash our veggies in case of pesticides, my family does not smoke and my daughter has ADHD, and I probably do too. We are both highly successful in our professions and more creative then the rest of the normies. It seems to us the rest of the world is single minded focused only on petty greviances. It is as if your brains are empty of the ability to see the wonders all around you, and unabile to come up with new ideas to solve the business, social or world problems.

  • Theres also the fact that if a child has ADD a parent might have it too. ADDers need to stay away from cookers. They are accident blackspots for attention deficit people. Hence more fast food.

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