The Relationship Between Unhealthy Eating and ADHD in Children


A recent study found a negative association between children with ADHD and health eating patterns.

unhealthy eating


A recent study sought to understand the relationship between dietary patterns of children and their attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) presentation.1

Investigators examined 2 different age groups of children from Spain: 259 preschoolers aged 3 to 6 years old (57 with ADHD and 202 controls) and 475 elementary-school-age children, aged 10 to 12 years old (213 with ADHD and 262 controls). ADHD was assessed in accordance with the DSM-5. Eating data were collected using a food consumption frequency questionnaire. Three types of eating patterns were identified: Western-like, sweet, and healthy.

Western pattern consists of eggs, processed meat, seafood, savory cereals, potatoes, legumes, sodas, and cooked vegetables. Sweet pattern consists of dairy desserts, sweet cereals, preserved fruit, and sweets. Healthy pattern consists of nuts, fish (white and oily), raw vegetables, fresh fruit, and olive oil.

The children and adolescents with ADHD were negatively associated with the healthy pattern (p < 0.001) and positively associated with the Western-like diet (p = 0.004). Furthermore, children with inattentive presentation showed lower adherence (12.2%) to a healthy pattern than that of the control group (39.9%) (p < 0.001). The control group had the highest adherence to the Healthy pattern. However, the two groups had a similar adherence to the sweet dietary pattern.

Previous research explored the association between ADHD diagnosis and the Mediterranean diet—a dietary pattern that includes fiber-rich food such as fruits and vegetables, healthy fatty acids, proteins, and more.2,3 According to 2 studies, there was less healthy eating and lower adherence to the Mediterranean diet in children and adolescents with ADHD than that in controls.

“We hypothesize that children with ADHD have a low-quality diet with a lower intake of fruits and vegetables than that of their peers without the disorder, and that this shows up specifically in children with combined or hyperactive–impulsive (H–I) ADHD presentations. Moreover, we hypothesize that food consumption generally differs from the established recommendations by dietary guidelines,” wrote the authors.1

The authors concluded that there is an association between ADHD and dietary habits, and children with inattentive presentation may be at increased risk of unhealthy eating habits.


1. Rojo-Marticella M, Arija V, Alda JÁ, et al. Do children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder follow a different dietary pattern than that of their control peers? Nutrients. 2022;14(6):1131.

2. Rios-Hernandez A, Alda JA, Farran-Codina A, et al. The Mediterranean diet and ADHD in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2017;139(2):e2016207.

3. San Mauro Martín I, Blumenfeld Olivares JA, Garicano Vilar E, et al. Nutritional and environmental factors in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a cross-sectional study. Nutr Neurosci. 2018;21(9):641-647.

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