ADHD Rates In Kids Are On The Rise, Concludes Study Spanning Two Decades

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Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, has become more common in children over the past 20 years, according to a new study.

The prevalence of ADHD in U.S. children and adolescents has increased from 6.1 percent in 1997 to 10.2 percent in 2016, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Children and teens with ADHD may be hyperactive, unable control their impulses, or may have trouble paying attention which can interfere with school and home life. Symptoms of ADHD can vary, but include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

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The team calculated the rates by using yearly surveys contained within the National Health Interview Survey, a large nationwide study conducted by a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. Researchers followed 186,000 children ages 4 to 17 every year from 1997 to 2016.

In the 20-year study, boys were diagnosed with ADHD at higher rates, an average of 14 percent, compared to girls at 6.3 percent. There were also racial differences in the prevalence of the disorder: African American children had the highest prevalence at 12.8 percent, followed by white children at 12 percent and Hispanic children at 6.1 percent.

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Credit: iStock / djedzura

The rise was most pronounced in minority groups, suggesting that better access to health insurance and mental health treatment through the Affordable Care Act might have played some role in the increase. The rate of diagnosis during that time period doubled in girls, although it was still much lower than in boys.

The reasons for the increase in ADHD rates were not directly studied. But the researchers suggested that efforts to train physicians in the disorder, improved awareness in the public, improved access to mental health services and changes in the diagnostic criteria may have all led to an increased number of children being diagnosed with ADHD.

Advances in medical technology also may have contributed to the increase, according to the research. The study also suggests that fewer stigmas about mental health care in minority communities may also lead to more people receiving an ADHD diagnosis.

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