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Boosting sleep, limiting screen time can benefit unmedicated youth with ADHD

July 8, 2024

A woman sits at a table with her hands clasped
Dr. Crystal Lim is a health sciences researcher studying unmedicated youth with ADHD at higher risk for obesity. She presents research finding to students on June 17, 2024. Photo by Sam O’Keefe/University of Missouri

Story by Brian Consiglio

More than 6 million children in America have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Now, a new study co-led by the University of Missouri has uncovered a striking correlation: Unmedicated youth with ADHD not only have significantly higher rates of obesity, but they also tend to exceed screen time recommendations and fall short of meeting crucial sleep guidelines.

Crystal Lim, chair of the Department of Health Psychology, and other researchers analyzed the results of a nationally representative survey that included tens of thousands of youths between the ages of 11-17. Parents of three groups — those without ADHD, those with ADHD on medication and those with ADHD not on medication — were asked how much sleep, screen time and exercise their children were getting daily.

Lim and the research team concluded that while sleeping more and limiting screen time are healthy behaviors for all children, prioritizing these two goals can be particularly helpful for unmedicated youth with ADHD, given that the group has a higher prevalence of obesity.

Lim added that while common stimulant medications to treat ADHD such as Adderall may result in a suppressed appetite as a side effect, not all ADHD medications are stimulants, and medication is only one small piece of the puzzle.

“If some families are not as interested in medication, identifying sleep as a key health behavior to target for improvement can help reduce the obesity risk,” Lim said. “As a clinical psychologist, I regularly meet with families and give them evidence-based strategies for creating long-lasting, healthy behavioral changes, including goal setting, monitoring health behavior progress, and parental role modeling.”

Read the full story from Show Me Mizzou.

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Crystal Lim

Crystal Lim

Health Psychology Department Chair and Associate Professor