Last week brought another article that showed that children who are identified with ADHD are more likely to have a
difference in their electro-encephalogram. We concluded that the difference seen does not necessarily represent disease, but it may represent a real difference. That difference probably requires a different approach to the way we educate children who struggle with attention.
This week a friend sent me an article that may give us an indication as to why there are so many children being labeled with ADHD and to some extent what the difference is between children labeled and not labeled with ADHD. The article was a summation of a research article published February, 2013 in PLOSone.[i] The research looked at the difference in heart rate variability in low fit and high fit subjects in the context of
testing that required sustained attention.
The article is complicated but one part of it has something very important to say about our ability to pay attention and stay on task. The test subjects in the high fit group were able to pay attention and stay on task better than their
low fit counterparts. Physical fitness seems to be connected to “sustained attention” while being physically
less fit is not.
In the process of looking for the original research article I came across another article that looked at the way exercise,
diet and media time affected the diagnosis of ADHD in children.[ii] The research looked at the habit s of over 11,000 German children and concluded that overweight children were at a “significantly higher risk” for ADHD symptoms than children who were not overweight. Poor nutrition and high television exposure were also associated with ADHD symptoms.
When you put both of these studies together several things stand out. Exercise is good for our attention spans. Obesity due to poor nutrition and lack of physical activity are not good for our attention spans. Television promotes physical inactivity and at times poor eating habits.
I have often said that we ate Twinkies and drank Pepsi when I was a kid, but we did not struggle with being
overweight. Perhaps it was because my mother would not let us watch more than 30 minutes of television a day. And, maybe it was because she told us to go outside and play.
It may be that one of the reasons why children struggle in school is because we are delivering a completely different
child to the schoolhouse. Perhaps it is time that we unplug the television after 30 minutes, limit computer games
in a similar way, encourage generous amounts of physical exercise and yes, pay attention to diet.
If we send a healthier, physically active child to school, we may find that they struggle less to pay attention. There may also be an opportunity to help students at school, by incorporating more physical activity into the day, but
that will have to wait for a future blog.
[i] Luque-Casado A, Zabala M, Morales E, Mateo-March M, Sanabria D (2013) Cognitive Performance
and Heart Rate Variability: The Influence of Fitness Level. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56935. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056935 Published: February 20, 2013
[ii] Association of Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder with Physical Activity,
Media Time, and Food Intake in Children and AdolescentsAndreas W. A. van Egmond-Fröhlich, Daniel Weghuber, Martina de Zwaan Research Article | published 14 Nov 2012 | PLOS ONE 10.1371/journal.pone.0049781Views: 2,111