ADHD News & Research

Study: Poor Diet More Common Among Children with Inattentive ADHD

Poor nutrition appears more common in children with inattentive ADHD, only 12% of whom practiced healthy eating habits — one-third the percentage of healthy eaters seen in the control group — in a recent study.

May 12, 2022

Unhealthy eating habits are more prevalent among children with inattentive symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than they are among those without the condition. This finding came from a new study published in Nutrients that compared the food consumption and dietary habits of children with and without ADHD in relation to their age and ADHD presentation. 1

The study sample included 734 children in Spain, including 259 preschoolers aged 3 to 6 years (57 with ADHD and 202 controls) and 475 elementary-school-age children aged 10 to 12 years (213 with ADHD and 262 controls).

Researchers measured three types of eating patterns:

  • Western-like (including eggs, processed meat, potatoes, legumes, sodas, and cooked vegetables)
  • sweet (dairy desserts, sweet cereals, preserved fruit, and sweets)
  • healthy (nuts, fish, raw vegetables, and fresh fruit)

Findings revealed only 12% of children with inattentive ADHD adhered to a healthy pattern compared to 40% of children in the control group. Children with inattentive ADHD were most likely to follow the Western-like pattern.

Both groups demonstrated unhealthy eating habits, specifically consuming more than the recommended amount of sweets (fruit juice, dairy desserts, red meat, sweet cereals, and sweet sodas). Almost all preschool children (95% of the children with ADHD and 96% of children in the control group) practiced poor eating habits. In the elementary-school-age group, researchers found that 92% of children across both groups should improve the quality of their diets. 1

“The study population generally has a poor-quality diet that it needs to improve to prevent future health issues,” the authors said. “This indicates the need to improve children’s diets in general. These results paint a picture of a current problem in many developed countries: nutritional deficiencies and excesses that can lead to childhood obesity.”

Researchers did not find any remarkable differences between age groups either in food intake (by grams or servings) or between children with ADHD and their control peers. Both groups ate adequate amounts of protein products, dairy products, and oily fish. They ate inadequate amounts of starches, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, white meat, white fish, and eggs.

This study supports previous reports that “inattentive symptoms of ADHD were directly related to bingeing or disinhibited eating behavior and indirectly to internal appetite signals by pathways of association via negative mood.” 2,3

“This emotional dysregulation may lead to emotional eating, which in turn may significantly influence the individual’s food choices (usually for unhealthy and comfort food),” the authors said.

View Article Sources

1Rojo-Marticella, M., Arija, V., Alda, J. Á., Morales-Hidalgo, P., Esteban-Figuerola, P., & Canals, J. (2022). Do children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder follow a different dietary pattern than that of their control peers? Nutrients. 14(6), 1131. //

2O’Neill S., Rudenstine S.(2019).Inattention, emotion dysregulation and impairment among urban, diverse adults seeking psychological treatment. Psychiatry Research. 282,112631.//

3Kaisari P., Dourish C.T., Rotshtein P., Higgs S. (2018). Associations between core symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and both binge and restrictive eating. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 9,103. //