ADHD diagnoses rise to 11% of kids
November 22nd, 2013
05:54 PM ET

ADHD diagnoses rise to 11% of kids

The number of children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) continues to climb, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There has been a 42% increase in the number of reported cases of ADHD since 2003, according to a CDC-led study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Today, 6.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 - 11% of kids in this age group - have received an ADHD diagnosis, according to the study, which is based on a survey of parents. That's 2 million more children than in 2007.

The number of children using medications to treat ADHD is also rising. Since the last survey taken in 2007, there has been a 28% increase in children taking drugs to manage the disorder. More than 3.5 million children in the 4 to 17 age group, or 6%, are taking ADHD medications, the survey found.

These data are part of the CDC's National Survey of Children's Health, a national cross-sectional, randomized telephone survey. The survey is conducted every four years, and questions about ADHD diagnosis have been included since 2003. The latest data are from interviews conducted via telephone from February 2011 and June 2012, with 95,677 interviews completed and an overall response rate of 23%.

But while rising rates of ADHD diagnosis may be an alarming headline, Dr. John Walkup, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, found some positive news when looking at rates of prevalence and treatment. In his view, the data suggest that the increasing diagnosis rate of ADHD is getting closer to the true prevalence of ADHD, which is even higher.

"We've been working so hard for so long to improve treatment," Walkup said. "If the prevalence rate is 9 to 11% and we're getting 8% currently diagnosed, it suggests that the public advocacy for treatment is paying off."

Walkup, who wrote an editorial in the same edition of the journal but was not involved in the study, pointed out that the survey found that only 70% of diagnosed children were getting treated. "It's hard to argue that we're overtreating."

But Dr. Allen Frances, former chairman of the psychiatry department at Duke University, is wary.

"The numbers shouldn't be taken at face value. The history of psychiatry is a history of fads, and we are now suffering from a fad of ADHD," Frances said. He says the rates have tripled over the past 15 years because of sales pressure from pharmaceutical companies selling stimulants to treat ADHD.

"We are medicalizing immaturity and turning childhood into a disease," Frances said.

Susanna Visser, lead author of the study, says she understands Frances' concern. She pointed out that according to the survey, more than half of ADHD diagnosis were done by age 6.

"A lot of symptoms of ADHD, like hyperactivity, can also be appropriate developmental markers of age," she said. "You have to see a more 'wait and see' approach. Can they better be attributed to other things: sleep, divorce, trauma? A lot of things can look like ADHD, and once those symptoms aren't appropriate for a child's age, then we need to get treatment."

Visser, an epidemiologist with the CDC, added, "I don't think we have our doctors out there labeling children irresponsibly. In general, physicians are trying to help children with their needs."

soundoff (129 Responses)
  1. Frangible

    As to why ADHD cases are increasing, another possible cause is that intrinsically its symptoms lead to an increased likelihood of unplanned pregnancy, which translates for a population into a higher overall rate of reproduction.

    In other words, evolution may actually select *for* ADHD traits.

    November 26, 2013 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • robsimon

      Let me see mmmm first remove the sugar, then caffeine from your child's diet as well as over stimulated environments TV, video games, 6 o'clock news and provide plenty of exercise ... yes, exercise, this is where you and your child actually goes out and plays for hours then come back and see me ...

      November 29, 2013 at 21:22 | Report abuse |
    • Nobody you know

      So, robsimon, do you actually have any educational background in this area? Or are you just another windbag, commenting on something because nobody will talk to you in real life?

      December 3, 2013 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
    • jeffemmersonauthor

      Hello from Calgary – After my suicide attempt and subsequent adult ADHD diagnosis in 2011, I'm on a mission to raise awareness for adult ADHD! The Adult ADHDBlog is quickly reaching people all over the world, and I've built aTwitter following of over 12,400 targeted followers. I also have 89 people who have already signed up to read my book once I get a deal!

      90% of adults with ADHD are stillundiagnosed, and 21-45% are in jails in Canada, research tells us. Please help me spread the word about The Adult ADHD Blog on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and with the press! This couldn't be more important. After my near-suicide in 2011, a new mission was born.

      Yours in the pursuit of global mental health awareness,

      Jeff Emmerson

      Creator of The Adult ADHD Blog

      February 26, 2014 at 17:02 | Report abuse |
  2. Marsha

    Why is it that Chinese students, studying here in America, don't have this "disease" at anywhere's near the rate of American kids? Secondly, why is this a 'disease" of white, upper, class American kids? How come so few minorities in college have this "disease"?

    November 26, 2013 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AnAdvocate

      My understanding from the thousands of pages of research I've read is that diagnosis is more common in North America because they are leading the way in research to discover what actually causes this disorder and how to diagnose and treat it. Other countries aren't nearly as advanced in their knowledge of ADHD, so it does exist just as much there, it's just going unrecognized and untreated.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:18 | Report abuse |
    • Nobody you know

      Maybe because Asian parents in general consider any kind of "disability" to be shameful. There are almost certainly Chinese students who suffer from this and other disorders and mental illness, but the parents would never be willing to admit there's a problem.

      December 13, 2013 at 14:03 | Report abuse |
    • jujubeans

      It's called discipline. If the kids don't pay attention, they get disciplined. If they're hyper, they tell them to calm down.

      February 26, 2014 at 18:00 | Report abuse |
    • Shawn Campbell

      I have lived in China for 7 years now. I have some students, especially boys, that I would diagnose as having ADHD.

      I am familiar with this disorder, as I have 2 nephews that either have it or have had it. One of them is now an engineer with GM.
      The rates of diagnosis in Shanghai are very low. I have seen suggestions around 1%. For the rest of the country, which includes where I live, diagnosis in nonexistent.

      I also speak Chinese and have told a couple of parents of my students that I think their child might have this disorder. They are initially shocked, sometimes to the point of anger. But after I tell them of the success that both of my nephews have had, they calm down. One even went to Shanghai to get his son checked up on, and it was indeed the case. After 6 months of being medicated, the student's grades went up across the board.

      Almost every one of my students, who are all well-to-do and will be going onto American universities sometime in the future are only children. If you tell the parents that there is something wrong with their child, they do not like it. They cannot stand the thought that their only child has something wrong with them. It has to do with the concept of face. You cannot understand face, until you come here and live. It dominates much of life.

      Now, I am not saying that medication is the only way. Both of my nephews are now off of it, and are doing extremely well. But to say it is not a problem, because only middle class and upper class white children have it, is ridiculous.

      April 27, 2014 at 02:55 | Report abuse |
  3. Chigrboy

    I don't outright say that ADHD is a bunch of bull, but I'm very very close. Last year my son was in 4th grade and his teacher was positive that he had ADHD, urging us to seek medical diagnosis and drugs. Yes drugs.
    So I did of course seek help. His primary care physician thought he was "borderline" after she spent time with him, but wasn't convinced. So she sent us to a psychologist. An older gentlemen who was "highly recommended. I can honestly tell you that this man is nothing more then a drug dealer/pusher, and worst of all he wants to give his drugs to children. His exam of my son was the worst medical exam I have ever personally witnessed. It was laughable if it weren't so serious of an issue. He did not exam my son except for taking his height and weight. He did not talk to my son except to tell him not to spin in his chair (that spun) after having him sit there for 20 minutes saying nothing to him. He simply asked ME a few questions, looked over the teacher eval, looked over his primary care physicians report and told me that my son has a SEVER CASE of ADHD and needs medication. Wrote me a prescription and told me to come back in a month. It was a complete sham! Honest to God, this guy was a joke.
    My son may like to drift off and he's one of the youngest kids in his class, but a year later unmedicated, he is doing just fine in school. In fact, he has always done fine academically. I honestly believe that this doctor was one of those you hear about that is sponsored by the drug companies. I'm so glad I didn't medicate my son. Beware and be an advocate for you kids! Not everyone has their best interests in mind.

    November 26, 2013 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott

      There are no doubt cases where a child might be diagnosed as having ADHD when in fact they may not. However, being in education for 15 years, I can assuredly say that there are a number of students who do indeed suffer from the disorder. I've seen a number of students who can't focus for a mere 5 seconds at a time without proper medication. I'm sure you're right about your son, but it's a real thing. I believe much of it has to do with children having shorter attention spans from the time they are toddlers which is, unfortunately, a learned trait.

      November 27, 2013 at 08:17 | Report abuse |
    • Crystal

      I am sorry you had to deal with that. It completely sucks when doctors take advantage of situations like that. Good for you for advocating for him and making the right choice. With all of that being said, you are one example of a bad diagnosis. There are many people (not just children) who do suffer from this very real disorder. It causes issues in school life, home life, social life, and adult life. It can be a struggle for not just the kids but the rest of their family. It is easy to say its BS when you do not have a kid who suffers from it. Sadly many parents and even some doctors make us who really have to deal with the issue look bad when all we want to do is help our children succeed in life. There are times when i sit up at night ans cry as i question my parenting. It can be a very hard thing to deal with until you find the right combination of treatments. Some do well with just therapy and others need a combination of treatments including meds. Each child is different and it is up to the parent to find out what is best fro their child and advocate for it.

      November 27, 2013 at 15:22 | Report abuse |
    • LM

      I agree. I have a really big problem with millions of kids taking drugs. This is unbelievable! I believe that kids/adults get misdiagnosed all of the time, including myself. If you don't take an upfront approach to your health, then you will become a statistic. I also agree that these children are eating and snacking on the wrong types of food and are not getting enough exercise. Statistics show that our kids are overweight and are exposed to the wrong types of activities.

      January 13, 2014 at 17:05 | Report abuse |
  4. Sharkmann

    ADHD? When i was a kid we called that disorder "Being a kid".

    November 27, 2013 at 04:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott

      Incorrect. "Being a kid" does not mean your focus is so low and distractibility so high that you can't complete a simple task. Again, it may be over-diagnosed sometimes, but it's a real disorder.

      November 27, 2013 at 08:19 | Report abuse |
    • AnAdvocate

      Your opinion is a common one and it's only because of the lack of education on what this disorder truly is. If there was more awareness as to what the science is behind it and the daily struggles that both children and adults incur from ADHD, then this opinion of it wouldn't be so common.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
  5. Susan Abrams

    This is to all of you ignorant people who claim ADHD doesn't exist. My life was destroyed by this disorder which remained undiagnosed until age 63 – Just how much reading have you done on the subject. You probably don't know that there is a definitive test now for the disorder. It shows up on a special brain scan. Also, ADHD is underdiagnosed – not over diagnosed – 20 or 30 years ago – doctors thought only young boys who were hyperactive had. They forgot about the females – who had the inattentive form of the disorder which did not have the hyperactivity. Now, many women are diagnosed and getting the correct treatment.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Crystal

    I used to think that all these childhood disorders like ADHD and ODD were crap. I was the person who said it was bad parenting. Now that my my daughter is almost 8 i can tell you for a fact that it is real. She has ADHD but she is not a bad kid. She is impulsive and hyperactive. I am a strict parent and i reinforce all my rules. Education and manners are important. My daughter is a sweet heart and never intentionally does anything to disrespect or hurt anyone else she just can not stay seated for long (like 5 mins max) and she often acts before sh thinks about the rules and repercussions. She is not aggressive and everything i have tried does not make a difference. The only thing that helps in the slightest is medication and therapy. There are cases where parents push to have their kids medicated (that one story about the little girl Rebecca Riley's,(who died because she was sick and her mom gave her to much cough meds with other ADHD and sleep meds) is a good example. and there are times when the kids are misdiagnosed but do not stand back and make judgments and so on about something you have no experience with. The real ADHD has nothing to do with poor parenting or medicating a child for simply being a kid.

    November 27, 2013 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Fitness

    I believe that ADD&ADHD is a real condition and it can be treated without prescriptions .

    November 28, 2013 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Lindsey

    Take the kids out of school and let the kids be kids!

    December 1, 2013 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nobody you know

      Did you realize you posted this drivel twice? Or are YOU suffering from ADHD?

      December 3, 2013 at 18:22 | Report abuse |
  9. DrK

    Oh my, how uninformed and dangerous are some of you. Especially if you are parents. You may have an ADD/ADHD kid in your own family who will grow up to be depressed, anxious and self-loathing - all because he or she can't accomplish what he or she knows they have the smarts to do, but, can't do, because lack of concentration, focus, get-up-and-go as well as a mind and/or body won't shut off plague them. Hey, moms and dads: Genes are the primary source of the behavior. The anatomical aspects are visible with imaging. EEGs can see it, too. It's as real as diabetes, or do you believe pharmaceutical companies are making doctors diagnose diabetes so they'll prescribe medication?

    I see adults only in my psychology practice. I am a PhD, not MD in a state where I'm not yet permitted to prescribe medication. Therefore, I have no incentive to diagnose ADD/ADHD medication. Also, adults who are diagnosed with ADD and who take medication and use strategies that allow them to function with a self-control (executive functioning) they couldn't achieve before (no matter how hard they tried), usually need very few therapy visits. So I have no financial incentive to diagnose ADD there either.

    So, what do you make of this? Almost all of the patients that come through my door are seeking help with depression, anxiety or interpersonal relationship problems. And, guess what? Two-thirds of them have ADD/ADHD! They often cry when they experience the clarity of mind and CALM that come from taking a dopamine-enhancing medication; they are ALWAYS ANGRY that they weren't diagnosed as children; they mourn the lost years during which they would have been able to achieve so much more academically or in the work place; they discover their interpersonal relationships improve as they can attend to their partners' needs; they are less short-tempered and more agreeable generally.

    So, you know what? Often, medication for depression and anxiety are no longer needed. Folks now have access to the IQ they couldn't quite activate before. They feel good. They feel present. They can give up self-loathing.

    And all you doubters out there want them as children and adults to continue feeling miserable? Shame on you.

    December 4, 2013 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jacobnv3

      As a social worker who works with at risk adolescents and who also spent 20 years investigating child abuse and maltreatment I will fully support you in what you’re saying. My current caseload is at least half teenagers with ADD/ADHD who are not being treated or who need an evaluation to confirm the diagnosis. These are not typically hyper kids who occasionally act out, there are teens and young adults whose lives are falling apart, failing school, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol , not getting along with their parents and who’ve had problems paying attention, getting things done and staying on task their whole lives. And when I investigated child abuse it was clear that parents with ADD/ADHD who were not being effectively treated were much more frustrated and stressed out parents. Adults with ADD/ADHD have at best a 50% rate of full time employment and when children with ADD/ADHD become adults they are much more likely to have serious problems with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. The use of stimulant medications for this disorder are incredibly effective in addressing these issues and often they are able to give people their lives back and allow them to function in a much more normal fashion.

      December 9, 2013 at 13:57 | Report abuse |
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  11. jeffemmersonauthor

    Hello from Calgary – After my suicide attempt and subsequent adult ADHD diagnosis in 2011, I'm on a mission to raise awareness for adult ADHD! The Adult ADHDBlog is quickly reaching people all over the world, and I've built aTwitter following of over 12,400 targeted followers. I also have 89 people who have already signed up to read my book once I get a deal!

    90% of adults with ADHD are stillundiagnosed, and 21-45% are in jails in Canada, research tells us. Please help me spread the word about The Adult ADHD Blog on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and with the press! This couldn't be more important. After my near-suicide in 2011, a new mission was born.

    Yours in the pursuit of global mental health awareness,

    Jeff Emmerson

    Creator of The Adult ADHD Blog

    February 26, 2014 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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