One in Ten Children Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

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Kids will be kids – short attention spans, full of energy. But more and more US children are being diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurological disorder characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, activity and impulse control. In four years, ADHD has jumped 22 percent with one in ten children being diagnosed.

Increase in ADHD Thought Related to Better Screening, More Awareness

In the latest statistics released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5.4 million children in the United States between the ages of 4 and 17 were diagnosed with ADHD in 2007, up from 4.4 million the year before. That number has substantially increased since 2003 when just one million children and teens were diagnosed.

The report, released in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued November 12, was based on the results of the National Survey of Children’s Health, a nationwide telephone survey of parents.

Read: Immaturity Versus ADHD Diagnosis

Although ADHD rates went up in all 50 states, 12 states largely account for the increase: North Carolina (the highest ADHD prevalence in the nation at 15.6%), Alabama (14.3%), Louisiana (14.2%), Delaware (14.1%), Ohio (13%), West Virginia (13%) and Arkansas (13%).

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Nevada, Illinois and California had the lowest rates of diagnosis.

Approximately half of all children diagnosed with ADHD were “moderate” or “severe” and two-thirds of children (2.7 million) were taking medication to control it.

Read: Teens with ADHD More Likely to Drop Out of High School

Among older teens between 15 and 17 years old, there was a 42 percent increase. Lead author Susanna Visser of the CDC says that this suggests that health care providers may be managing a larger and different population of children than they were four years ago.

Hispanic children also had a substantial increase in ADHD diagnoses. Fifty-three percent more Hispanics were diagnosed with the condition than in 2003. The increase may reflect better access to health care or changing attitudes about ADHD within the Hispanic community.

The rise in diagnosis is thought to be due to better screening programs and more awareness, rather than a rise in the actual number of kids developing the condition due to a particular biological or environmental factor such as lead exposure, low birth weight and premature birth. Hopefully, says Visser, the statistics do not reflect an increase in misdiagnosis or “physicians… slapping an ADHD label on kids with ADHD-related behaviors.”

Regardless, she says, “We have to figure out what’s driving the change.”

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