Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Clinical and Population Health Research


Quantitative Health Sciences

First Thesis Advisor

Eric Mick, ScD


Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity, Health Behavior, Motor Activity, Sedentary Lifestyle, Nutrition Surveys, Television, Diet, Adolescent, Screen Time


Dissertations, UMMS; Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity; Health Behavior; Motor Activity; Sedentary Lifestyle; Nutrition Surveys; Television; Diet; Adolescent


Background. Emerging evidence suggests that youth with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may engage in sub-optimal health behaviors including high levels of screen time, low physical activity participation, and consumption of poor diets. These are independent risk factors for adverse health outcomes, and health-related behavior patterns established in childhood can track into adulthood. Thus, identifying and addressing dietary and physical activity habits in sub-populations of youth have important implications for health over the lifespan. The specific aims of this dissertation were to: (1) compare screen time between youth with and without ADHD and to assess its relationship to ADHD symptomatology; (2) compare participation in physical activity (PA) between adolescents with and without ADHD and to assess the relationship of PA participation to ADHD symptomatology; and (3) evaluate the association of diet quality and dietary patterns to ADHD symptomatology among youth ages 8-15 years.

Methods. The aforementioned outcomes of interest were analyzed using data from the continuous National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2004. These waves of NHANES included a structured DSM-IV-based interview administered to parents that identified youth with ADHD and also yielded symptom counts for hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention. Screen time and physical activity data were obtained from questionnaires that queried the amount of time spent watching television, playing videos, or using the computer outside of school time, and also surveyed the types, frequency, and duration of PA in which youth participated. Diet quality and dietary patterns, which included consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), total calorie intake, and eating frequency, were obtained by a 24-hour dietary recall using the Automated Multiple Pass Method of interviewing. Linear and logistic regression models adjusted for sociodemographic factors and anxiety/depression were employed to address the specific aims.

Results. The findings suggest that youth with ADHD are at the same, if not higher, risk for engaging in suboptimal health behaviors. Overall, youth participating in NHANES engaged in excessive amounts of screen time, failed to acquire sufficient physical activity, and consumed diets of poor quality. However, our findings suggest that ADHD symptomatology places youth at higher risk for sedentary behavior and poor diet quality. Relative to screen time, youth with ADHD showed a trend toward increased screen time, as did youth who took medication. ADHD symptoms were also associated with over two hours of daily TV viewing and overall increased screen time, and this was particularly true for children ages 8-11 years. Relative to physical activity, the outcomes did not differ between youth with and without ADHD, but the majority of youth did not meet the recommended guidelines of 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous PA each day. Diet quality was poor across the population of youth who participated in NHANES, and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms were associated with an even greater decrease in diet quality in both children and adolescents. In males, the presence of hyperactive/impulsive symptoms was associated with a decrease in diet quality, whereas in females, inattentive symptoms accounted for a decrease in diet quality. No differences in the other dietary patterns (i.e., SSB consumption, total energy intake, and eating frequency) were observed.

Conclusions. The diagnosis of ADHD and/or its symptoms are associated with less-than-recommended levels of screen time and poor diet quality, though youth in general were found to be engaging in suboptimal sedentary, physical activity, and dietary behaviors. The mechanisms for why youth with ADHD may have increased vulnerability to poorer health behaviors are not yet well understood. The findings from this dissertation support the need for ongoing efforts to address lifestyle factors among the nation’s youth generally, but may also stimulate new hypotheses about the needs of youth with ADHD from both public health and clinical perspectives, and encourage research on the implications of ADHD symptomatology on health-related behaviors and lifestyle factors.



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