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The Comorbidity of ADHD and Eating Disorders in a Nationally Representative Sample

Abstract

Evidence suggests a comorbidity of childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and subsequent eating disorders. However, most studies have assessed this comorbidity among patient populations as opposed to nationally representative samples and have not explored differences by subtype of each disorder. The current study aims to investigate the association between both clinical (i.e., diagnosed) and subclinical (i.e., presence of behaviors but not all diagnostic criteria) ADHD and eating disorders via a secondary data analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (n = 12,262). Results reveal that those with clinical ADHD are more likely to experience (a) clinical eating disorder, (b) clinical-level binging and/or purging behaviors, and (c) clinical-level restrictive behaviors. Those with subclinical ADHD (both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive) were more likely to experience subclinical binging and/or purging behaviors but not subclinical restrictive behaviors. Implications of study findings pertain to both secondary/targeted prevention of eating disorders and tertiary prevention via patient-specific treatment plans.

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Notes

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    One impulsive symptom, “often interrupts or intrudes on others,” was not included in the original questionnaire. Thus, participants were considered to have hyperactive/impulsive behavior if they reported five or more hyperactive or impulsive symptoms.

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Acknowledgments

This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth). No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Author information

Correspondence to Jennifer R. Bleck MPH.

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Bleck, J.R., DeBate, R.D. & Olivardia, R. The Comorbidity of ADHD and Eating Disorders in a Nationally Representative Sample. J Behav Health Serv Res 42, 437–451 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11414-014-9422-y

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Keywords

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Eating Disorder
  • Binge Eating
  • ADHD Symptom
  • Bulimia Nervosa