A new Icelandic study has found that younger school children face up to a 50% greater likelihood of getting diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than their older peers.
Co-author Sonia Hernández-Diaz of the Harvard School of Public Health consulted standardized test scores and medical records of almost 12,000 students in Iceland between the ages of 9 and 12. Just over 6% of the children were on ADHD drugs, with 8% of children in the youngest third of their class and 5 to 6% in the middle and oldest third being on medication. The variance was greatest among fourth graders but only tapered through the seventh grade—something even the researchers didn’t expect.
“Researchers always assumed that academic differences due to age would completely disappear once children reached high school, but we don’t really know,” Hernández-Diaz remarked. She added, “Kids may just be acting their age if they’re nearly a year younger than some of their peers and are struggling a bit emotionally and academically.”
Many parents opt to enroll their children into school a year later if their birthday is near the cutoff; others don’t. Children prescribed Ritalin and Adderall while still in elementary years are more likely, however, to stay on the drugs into adulthood—a troubling notion if children are being misdiagnosed or overprescribed merely for their younger age.
Hernández-Diaz advocates raising awareness among parents and teachers that some kids may “just need more time to mature and improve in their academic performance.”
Skyrocketing Misdiagnoses and Over-Prescription
Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study adds weight to growing concern from both the public and medical communities that children are being misdiagnosed and overprescribed—sometimes intentionally, to boost academic performance among children from lower income families. To be more clear, doctors are actually prescribing ADHD drugs to students who are academically struggling: the kids don’t have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Results of the Icelandic study mirror those of another study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in March. The Canadian study found that in a study group of one million 6- to 12- year old children in British Columbia, ADHD diagnoses were 30 and 70% more common in boys and girls born in December respectively.
Pharmaceuticals Mired in Financial Ties
Prescription drugs for children amount to more than considerable bills for families that can’t afford them, however. ADD and ADHD drugs come with a list of side effects and negative consequences considerable enough to warrant pause. To boot, parents have few friends in the medical, psychiatric, and pharmaceutical communities, since 70% of DSM psychiatrists are financially tied to drug companies and the likes of Dr. Drew are only too happy to accept paychecks from Big Pharma to push and misrepresent dangerous drugs.
Instead of relying on pharmaceuticals, dietary changes can help address children diagnosed with ADHD, including reducing fructose intake and increasing fiber, folate, and omega 3 fatty acids.