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31-08-2011 | Psychology | Article

Sweets, fast food increase risk for ADHD in children


Free abstract

MedWire News: Children consuming a diet high in sweets and fast food may be at risk for developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), suggest study findings.

"To our knowledge, this study is the first to link major dietary patterns and the prevalence of ADHD in children," say Ahmad Esmaillzadeh and Leila Azadbakht, both from Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Iran.

The results provide a complete picture of dietary characteristics associated with ADHD, thus supplementing previous study findings confirming several dietary factors implicated with the syndrome.

For the study, the researchers assessed usual dietary intakes among 375 school-age (8 years on average) children using a semi-quantitative food-frequency questionnaire, consisting of 134 food items, administered to the children's parents. The presence of ADHD was diagnosed using DSM-IV criteria and major dietary patterns were identified by factor analysis.

Four major dietary patterns were identified, which included "sweet" (highly loaded with ice cream, refined grains, sweet desserts, sugar, and soft drinks), "fast food" (high in processed meat, commercially produced fruit juices, pizza, snacks, sauces, and soft drinks), "Western" (high in processed meat, red meat, butter, eggs, pizza, snacks, animal fat, and hydrogenated fat), and "healthy" (high in fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, whole grains, legumes, and dairy).

Children in the highest quintile were more likely to have a positive family history of ADHD (9% vs 4%) and to be obese (11% vs 6%) compared with children in the lowest quintile of the sweet dietary pattern. Furthermore, children in the highest quintile of the sweet dietary pattern obtained a larger percentage of energy from carbohydrate than those in the lowest quintile (64% vs 53%, respectively).

The overall prevalence of ADHD was also significantly higher among children in the highest quintile of the fast-food dietary pattern compared with those in the lowest quintile (16% vs 5%, respectively).

Nutrient intake analysis showed that children with ADHD had a lower intake of iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins B1 and B2 compared with children without ADHD. Furthermore, children with ADHD consumed larger amounts of sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Multivariate analysis controlling for energy intake showed that those in the highest quintile of the sweet dietary pattern had a 4.05-fold increased risk for ADHD compared with those in the lowest quintile. Further adjustment for age, gender, socioeconomic status, body mass index, and family history of ADHD attenuated the associations but they remained significant.

Children who consumed the fast-food dietary pattern also had a 3.21-fold increased risk for developing ADHD, even after controlling for potential confounders.

The healthy and Western dietary patterns were not associated with ADHD and its subtypes. No overall significant associations were found between the sweet or fast-food dietary patterns and individual ADHD subtypes.

The authors propose that the lack of an association between the Western diet and ADHD maybe due to the lower loading factors for similar food items compared with the fast-food dietary pattern.

"Prospective studies are required to confirm these findings," conclude the researchers in the journal Nutrition.

By Ingrid Grasmo

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