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ADHD rates up by a quarter in the past decade: study

Kimberly Gillan
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
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The number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has risen by 24 percent in the past 10 years, according to a US study.

Researchers looked at the health records of 843,000 children who had received care from a Californian health fund.

Between 2001 and 2010, the number of first-time ADHD diagnoses rose from 2.5 percent to 3.1 percent –– a 24 percent increase.

People with ADHD tend to be hyperactive, have difficulty concentrating and are often impulsive.

The study compared white, black and Hispanic children and found rates were highest in white children, jumping from 4.7 percent to 5.6 percent in the 10-year study.

They also found children from wealthier families were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

"Higher rates of ADHD observed in affluent, white families likely represents an effort by these highly educated parents to seek help for their children who may not be fulfilling their expectations for schoolwork," the authors wrote in JAMA Pediatrics.

Study author Dr Darios Getahun said increased education and awareness of ADHD is probably what drove the increase in diagnoses –– which is a good thing for kids.

"The earlier a diagnosis is made, the earlier we can initiate treatment which leads to a better outcome for the child," he said.

ADHD diagnosis can be difficult because pediatricians, psychologists or psychologists have to be able to rule out other reasons for a child's behaviour.

For this reason, studies into the prevalence of ADHD have mixed results, with Australian studies varying between 2.3 percent and six percent of children.

Dr Daryl Efron, a pediatrician at the Royal Children's Hospital, told ninemsn that rates of diagnosis in Australia are difficult to obtain.

"We don't have these sorts of databases that some sections of the US have," he said.

"But it's important to note that this study is only looking at a sub-section of the community –– it's only people who are registered with that private health fund. How much you can extrapolate from that to the rest of the US or even to Australia … who knows?"

Dr Efron said Australian pediatricians are across the issue, and diagnosis tends to be accurate.

"We have understood this condition is a serious developmental problem but we haven't had excessive diagnosis that they have had in the United States," he said.

"We've got a pretty good approach about which kids to treat and who not to treat."

Dr Steve Hambleton, federal president of the Australian Medical Association, told ninemsn that education and understanding about ADHD is always improving.

"There is now a different level of understanding about what the diagnosis means and what you can do about it and why you would have the diagnosis of something in the first place," he said.

This is great news for kids and families, who can put practices in place to help the child develop.

"If you've got a 10-year-old who can't sit still and can't concentrate on things and function as part of their age-related peer group, you set them up for a long term problem," Dr Hambleton said.

"Whereas if you can help that child with changing things in the environment, and restructuring things around them to help them fit in and be part of their peer group, you're setting them up for a good outcome. Some of those children are high-performing young people with above-average intelligence."

Dr Efron is conducting a large study called the Children's Attention Project, which is observing how children with an ADHD diagnosis fare long-term.

"We know the kids are at risk of having a range of bad outcomes, such as not doing as well at school and not getting as good jobs," he said.

"Most do pretty well but some don't, so we are trying to understand the variables."


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