ADHD News & Research

ADHD and ODD More Prevalent in Children with Food Allergies, Study Finds

A study examining the connection between mental health issues in children and common physical conditions found a link between food allergies and behavioral disorders like ADHD and ODD.

January 10, 2018

Children with food allergies may be more likely to be show symptoms of ADHD or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), according to a small new study1 investigating the relationship between physical and mental health.

The study, published on the first day of 2018 in the journal BMJ Open, focused on 50 children between the ages of 6 and 16 who had been diagnosed in the past six months with asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, food allergies, or juvenile arthritis. Parent reports — as well as interviews with the children older than 11 — were used to assess the children’s mental health, family functioning, and overall stress levels.

More than half of all the children had some sort of mental health concern, the authors said. ADHD and ODD were particularly prevalent in the food allergy group; though just 16 percent of the children had a food allergy, 38 percent of those had ADHD, and 50 percent had ODD, according to their parents’ reports.

Allergies have been linked to emotional or behavioral problems in the past. While the study adds to that body of evidence, the authors write, its small size means its claims on the matter are far from definitive — “but instead are offered as hypotheses to be tested rigorously in larger samples.”

The authors do indicate, however, that the study’s results highlight the need for more comprehensive, holistic health care.

“Regardless of their condition, children with physical and mental health problems experience a significant decline in their quality of life within the first six months after receiving their [physical problem] diagnosis, indicating a need for mental health services early on,” said senior author Mark Ferro in a press release.

1 Butler, Alexandra, et al. “Mental Disorder in Children with Physical Conditions: A Pilot Study.” BMJ Open, vol. 8, no. 1, 2018, doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019011.