ADHD Drugs May Increase Risk of Teen Weight Gain: Study

In a groundbreaking study, researchers indicate that use of stimulant ADHD medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall, may be linked to weight gain during adolescence.  

In the latest issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers presented findings of a study focused on the effects of stimulant medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to the findings, children who took ADHD drugs early in life were more likely to have increased weight gain during teen years.

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Dr. Brain S. Schwartz and a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore examined the health records for more than 160,000 children in Pennsylvania. Researchers used information for children ages three to 18 in the Geisinger Health System.

The children taking Ritalin tended to gain more weight in their teen years and had a higher body mass index (BMI), weight in relation to height, according to the results The children not treated with stimulant medications had a lower BMI than teens than those who didn’t take the medication or without ADHD.

On average children began taking Adderall, Ritalin, or other stimulants before the age of 10. About half of the children continued to take the drugs for less than six months.

Researchers found the earlier the children started taking the medication, the higher the BMI during adolescence. The medication created a “rebound” effect, stemming from the medication’s appetite suppressant qualities, causing the weight gain later.

Prolonged use of the stimulants was also linked to a lower BMI in childhood, but a higher BMI and a rapid rebound during teen years, even after children stopped taking the medication.

Schwarz and his team say the findings of the study change researchers’ understanding of how ADHD relates to obesity. This may point to treatment with Adderall and Ritalin as the problem, not the ADHD diagnosis itself.

Prior studies have revealed links to childhood and adult obesity, but this is the first study to tie the medication to weight gain later in life. However, researchers say it is unclear why Ritalin or Adderall may cause a delayed increase in weight gain, prompting further study.

ADHD Diagnoses, Drug Prescriptions, Increasing

Approximately 11% of children ages four to 17 are diagnosed with ADHD each year.  The prevalence among children puts the disorder at the center of controversy.

A study published last year revealed emergency room visits associated with adults taking ADHD stimulant drugs increased dramatically since 2005. The number of patients taking drugs like Ritalin and ending up in the ER more than quadrupled.

The health disorder was also at the center of criticism late last year after Dr. Keith Conners called the ADHD diagnosis a creation of the pharmaceutical industry.

Conners said the prevalence of ADHD diagnoses was highly inflated and contributing to the overuse and abuse of stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, benefiting the drug industry. Sales for ADHD medication reached more than $9 billion in 2012 alone.

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