Attention Deficit Disorder Diagnoses Rise 24% in U.S.

The number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, increased 24 percent during the past decade, a study found, as the condition gained greater recognition by parents and doctors.

The disorder was detected in 3.1 percent of children who received care at Kaiser Permanente Southern California in 2010, compared with 2.5 percent in 2001, according to the study, published yesterday by the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Rates rose fastest among black girls.

“My speculation, because this is just a trend study, is that it’s better diagnosis and also increased awareness of the disorder by parents,” Darios Getahun, the study author and a research scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Group in Pasadena, California, said in an interview. “At the same time, it can also be partly explained by the overall upward trend of ADHD.”

The study, which looked at medical records of 842,830 patients during the nine-year period, found a total rate of ADHD of 4.9 percent, with a median age of diagnosis of 8 years old to 9 years old.

The biggest increase came among black girls, with an 83 percent gain to 2.2 percent in 2010. Getahun said the group was catching up to black boys, who’s rate stood at 5.9 percent in 2010, a 48 percent gain from 2001.

Diagnoses among white children rose to 5.6 percent in 2010 from 4.7 percent in 2001. One group that didn’t see an increase was children of Asian-Pacific heritage. The rate among that group stayed at 1.2 percent during the decade, according to the study.

Total Numbers

ADHD, which causes inattentiveness, over-activity and impulsiveness, is diagnosed in as many as 7 percent of children and 4 percent of adults, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website.

An earlier study found 20 percent of kids ages 13 to 18 diagnosed with ADHD were using stimulant medications such as Ritalin. About 14 percent of teenagers diagnosed with depression were using antidepressants, that study found.

While the cause of the disorder is unknown, a combination of environmental and genetic factors are likely contributors, Getahun said.

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