The number of children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder rose more than 30 percent over the past decade, with much of the increase likely due to more awareness and diagnosis, according to a new government report.
Wider access to health-care services and increased recognition of the disorders mean more children are being diagnosed, said Lara Akinbami, lead researcher for the report, which was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It's unlikely that most of this is due to a new epidemic of ADHD," Dr. Akinbami said.
The percentage of children ages 5 to 17 who had ever been diagnosed with ADHD rose to nine percent for 2007 through 2009, encompassing about 4.7 million children, from 6.9 percent, or about 3.6 million children, in the period from 1998 to 2000, according to the report, compiled by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. The prevalence of ADHD in children of families living below the poverty line rose nearly 40 percent, and it rose 50 percent among kids in families with income just above the poverty line.
The findings suggest that increased awareness, outreach groups and improvements in health care are encouraging more low-income parents to bring their children to pediatricians for diagnosis, said Ruth Hughes, chief executive of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a nonprofit organization that advocates for support for children and adults with ADHD.
The rise in diagnoses is significant for health systems and schools, as kids with ADHD use more services like special-education classes, Dr. Akinbami said. The estimated cost to society of children and adolescents with ADHD totals about $42.5 billion a year, according to a 2005 study led by the State University of New York that factored in health care, education, parental work loss and juvenile-justice costs.
ADHD is characterized by inattentiveness, impulsive behavior and hyperactivity. Until the early 1990s, kids who were inattentive but not necessarily hyper were diagnosed as having ADD, or attention deficit disorder. Any ADD diagnoses from the past now fall under the umbrella of ADHD.
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