ADHD Rates Have Skyrocketed in the Past 2 Decades?

ADHD Rates Have Skyrocketed in the Past 2 Decades?
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Rates of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have skyrocketed in the United States over the past 2 decades, with a new study showing that 1 in 10 children are now ‘diagnosed’ with the condition. [1]

The study used data from the National Health Interview Study to examine children between the ages of 4 and 17. From 1997 to 1998, 6.1% of people in this age group were diagnosed with ADHD. The researchers found that this had increased to 10.2% between 2015 and 2016.

So, do more children have ADHD? Not necessarily, according to Dr. Wei Bao, study co-author and assistant professor at the University of Iowa. Bao said that better awareness of ADHD has led to more diagnoses, as more doctors and health professionals have familiarized themselves with the condition and are therefore better at recognizing and diagnosing it.

Bao said:

“Second, the public is more aware of this condition, increasing the possibility of affected kids being screened and diagnosed. Third, biological factors may also play a role. For example, infants born early or small survive, but they are at higher risk for developing ADHD.”

Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Stanford Brainstorm, added: [2]

“The diagnosis and assessment for ADHD has evolved over the past few decades. The diagnostic criteria that we use is now a little more liberal and captures cases that the older criteria would have left out.”

For example, under the new criteria, a child can be diagnosed with ADHD if he or she has symptoms of either hyperactivity or attention-deficit that interfere with his or her quality of life. In the past, a diagnosis could only be made if symptoms were present in multiple environments.

Or Could the Increase be Due to Misdiagnosis?

Some experts chalk the increase up to rising numbers of misdiagnoses of ADHD in children. [1]

Amie Bettencourt, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explained:

“The increased rigor of kindergarten is leading to a lot of false identifications of ADHD.

This is a time when children are still developing the capacity to sit still. Years ago there was not so much sitting still. Learning was more play and experiential based.”

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‘Play Time’ is Essential

In fact, last August the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released an updated guidance urging pediatricians to “prescribe play.” The group stressed that playing with parents and peers is vital to a child’s healthy development, and is critical for learning life skills and reducing stress. [3]

The authors of the report make it clear that play is one of the things young children need most for future success.

They wrote:

“Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function, and promotes executive function.”

Read: Younger Kids 50% More Likely to get ADHD Drugs than Older Peers

Both the AAP and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend children get 1 hour of physical activity per day, as well as 1 hour of simple, creative play. As more schools abandon recess and physical education classes, the onus is often on parents to make sure their children get enough play and physical activity.

However, when researchers accounted for race and gender, disparities emerged. Data from 2015-2016 show black children saw the highest rate of diagnoses (12.8%), followed by white children (12%), and Hispanic children (6.1%). When it came to gender, 14% of boys were diagnosed with ADHD, compared with only 6.3% of girls. [1]

Bao said:

“Boys are usually more active than girls, therefore boys are more likely to be recognized due to hyperactivity.”

On the other hand, girls with ADHD tend to display attention-deficit traits, according to Bao.

In July, a study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed a link between ADHD in teenagers and social media use. It wasn’t clear whether smartphones and other electronic gadgets led to the disorder, but the association was strong enough to warrant further research.

It’s not clear why some races are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than others.

Or maybe the increased rates of ADHD is false since the mental disorder may not even be real.

Mic drop.


[1] Medical Daily

[2] ABC News

[3] CBS News