ADHD diagnosis rates up 24 percent over decade

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The number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) skyrocketed 24 percent between 2001 and 2010, a new study conducted by Kaiser Permanente reveals.

Compiled statistics show that 4.9 percent of children between the ages of 5 to 11 who were patients at Kaiser Permamente Southern California branches between 2001 and 2010 were diagnosed with ADHD.

The overall rate of ADHD diagnosis was found to be 3.1 percent of children, up from 2.5 percent in 2001.

The study was published Jan. 21 in JAMA Pediatrics.

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children, and affects an estimated 3 to 5 percent of school-aged kids according to the National Institutes of Health. Traditionally, it is diagnosed more in boys than girls. While some researchers believe ADHD might run in families, there is no clear cause.

Symptoms include having a hard time paying attention, daydreaming, not listening, being easily distracted, forgetfulness, inability to stay still, talking too much, not being able to play quietly, acting and speaking without thinking, having trouble taking turns and frequently interrupting others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Most children with ADHD have another developmental or behavioral problem as well.

The study involved the electronic health records of 850,000 children in total. Researchers discovered that white and black children were most likely to be diagnosed, with rates reaching 5.6 and 4.1 percent of their populations respectively in 2010.

In addition, the number of black children between the ages of 5 to 11 who received a new ADHD diagnosis rose from 2.6 percent in 2001 to 4.1 percent in 2010, a surprising 70 percent increase. Newly-diagnosed Hispanic children's rates went up 60 percent from 1.7 to 2.5 percent in the same period. White children's diagnosis rates rose from 4.7 percent in 2001 to 5.6 percent in 2010 -- up 30 percent -- while Asian/Pacific Islander and other ethnic group rates stayed the same.

Boys were three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, and children of families with a household income of more than $30,000 a year were 20 percent more likely to have a diagnosis than those who made less money.

"While the reasons for increasing ADHD rates are not well understood, contributing factors may include heightened awareness of ADHD among parents and physicians, which could have led to increased screening and treatment," Dr. Darios Getahun, from Kaiser Permanente Southern California's Department of Research & Evaluation, said in a press release. "This variability may indicate the need for different allocation of resources for ADHD prevention programs, and may point to new risk factors or inequalities in care."

Dr. Roberto Tuchman, director of the autism and neurodevelopment program at Miami Children's Hospital in Florida, told HealthDay agreed rates have risen because people are recognizing the disorder more. He was not involved in the study.

"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.

He felt, however, that the disorder may be overdiagnosed in wealthier groups, and that more outreach is needed in poor communities.

"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.

One expert felt the increase in rates was due to less acceptance of "rowdier" kids at school.

"There's always been some kids who are more active than others," said Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York who wasn't involved with Kaiser study, said to the Wall Street Journal.

"There's less of a tolerance for rough-and-tumble these days so more kids are being referred for treatment," he said.