Study Reveals 11 Percent of U.S. Children Have Been Diagnosed with ADHD

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) have released a new study finding that in 2011, 6.4 million children in the U.S. (11 percent of the population) between the ages of 4 and 17 years had been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)— an increase of 2 million from 2003. In addition, the study, which was published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, noted that more than two-thirds of children with current ADHD were taking medication for it in 2011 – a 28 percent increase from 2007. According to the study, the rising number of children with ADHD and the rising number of children treated with medication demonstrate a rising burden on the U.S. health care system.  Therefore, the study suggests that additional efforts be taken to learn about ADHD diagnostic and treatment patterns in the United States.

Key Findings

  • As of 2011, 6.4 mill1on children had been diagnosed with ADHD at some time in their lives
  • 5.1 million of them had a current diagnosis of ADHD
  •  3.5 million children with a current diagnosis were taking medication to treat their ADHD.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 high school boys and 1 in 11 high school girls have been diagnosed with ADHD
  • From 2003 to 2011, parent-reported history of ADHD increased by 42 percent
  • Two demographic groups that did not see a significant change in ADHD diagnosis from 2003-2011 were“multiracial/other race children” and children who did not have health care coverage.

Discussion in the Medical Community

With the rising rates of ADHD and treatment, some health professionals are worried about overtreatment. According to a CNN report, Dr. Allen Frances, a former chairman of Duke University’s psychiatry department, believes that pharmaceutical companies are responsible for increasing rates of ADHD  because they have created pressure to purchase medications. Dr. Frances notes, “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.”

Still, according to CNN, other experts believe that the CDC and HRSA’s study is a step in the right direction.Dr. John Walkup, of Weill Cornell Medical College, who is the director of New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s child and adolescent psychiatry program, stated, “We’ve been working so hard for so long to improve treatment. 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.”

However, the study’s lead author and CDC epidemiologist, Susanna Visser, noted, “A lot of symptoms of ADHD, like hyperactivity, can also be appropriate developmental markers of age. 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.” Still, CNN further quotes Visser as stating, “I don’t think we have our doctors out there labeling children irresponsibly. In general, physicians are trying to help children with their needs.”