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More U.S. Children Diagnosed With ADHD

Finding from large study may be due to better awareness, experts say

MONDAY, Jan. 21, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- More and more U.S. children are being diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a new study suggests.

Exactly why these rates are climbing isn't clear. But increased awareness of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is likely a contributing factor, the study authors said.

According to the new findings, the rate of children who were diagnosed with ADHD jumped by about 24 percent between 2001 and 2010. This increase was most pronounced with white children, and there was a 90 percent increase in ADHD diagnosis among black girls during the same time frame.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 4 percent and 12 percent of school-aged children have ADHD. Symptoms include difficulty focusing, impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity. Treatments for ADHD include medication and behavioral modifications.

For the study, researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Group mined the electronic health records of nearly 850,000 children aged 5 to 11 years between 2001 and 2010. Of these children, slightly less than 5 percent had an ADHD diagnosis. White and black children were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islander children.

Specifically 5.6 percent of white children in the study had an ADHD diagnosis in 2010, compared with 4.1 percent of blacks, 2.5 percent of Hispanics and 1.2 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders. Boys were three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, the study found.

The findings are published online Jan. 21 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Study author Dr. Darios Getahun, from Kaiser's department of research and evaluation, said this increasing trend of ADHD diagnoses could be due to more awareness among doctors and increased use of screening tools, but it also could mean that ADHD is becoming more common. "The trend has increased, but the reason behind it is just speculation and most likely a result of heightened awareness," he said.

Of note, the gender gap is getting smaller among black children, but not other groups, he said.

"If parents notice changes in their child's school performance and social interaction that persist, they should consult a doctor and see about available ADHD screening services," he said. "Earlier diagnosis and treatment of ADHD leads to better outcomes for these children."

Dr. Roberto Tuchman, director of the autism and neurodevelopment program at Miami Children's Hospital in Florida, agreed that awareness has risen.

"The increase in ADHD over time is likely due to increased recognition of the disorder," Tuchman said. As awareness grows, certain racial and ethnic groups who previously fell under the radar are beginning to be diagnosed, he said.

"As we get more sophisticated in our ability to recognize the symptoms and the behaviors that constitute ADHD, we are beginning to identify more people with it," he said.

Still, despite the increase in rates of diagnosis, ADHD remains underdiagnosed in some populations, especially poor and minority groups. It may be overdiagnosed in others, however, Tuchman said.

"We see privileged children who are in very competitive schools and there is tremendous pressure to perform better, and this may result in diagnosis of ADHD," he said.

The new study backs up this point. Families with higher incomes were more likely to have ADHD diagnoses than poorer families, the researchers found.

More information

Learn more about ADHD from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/ ).

SOURCES: Roberto Tuchman, M.D., director, autism and neurodevelopment program, Miami Children's Hospital; Darios Getahun, M.D., Ph.D., department of research and evaluation, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena, Calif.; Jan. 21, 2013, JAMA Pediatrics online