Study Shows ADHD in Kids Jumps 24 Percent in a Decade

In just 10 years the number of children diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, rose dramatically, a  large new study suggests.

Overall, about 5 percent of nearly 843,000 kids ages 5 to 11 were diagnosed between 2001 and 2010 with the condition that can cause impulsive behavior and trouble concentrating. But during that time, rates of new ADHD diagnoses skyrocketed 24 percent - jumping from 2.5 percent in 2001 to 3.1 percent in 2010.

That's according to a comprehensive review of medical records for children who were covered by the Kaiser Permanente Southern California health plan.  Rates rose most among minority kids during the study period, climbing nearly 70 percent overall in black children, and 60 percent among Hispanic youngsters, according the study published in JAMA Pediatrics. Among black girls, ADHD rates jumped 90 percent.

Rates remained highest in white children, climbing from 4.7 percent to 5.6 percent during the study period.

The biggest factor driving this increase may be the heightened awareness of ADHD among parents, teachers, and pediatricians, says the study's lead author Dr. Darios Getahun, a scientist with Kaiser Permanente. For kids who need help, that's a good thing, Getahun says.

"The earlier a diagnosis is made, the earlier we can initiate treatment which leads to a better outcome for the child," he says.

Unlike previous studies in which researchers relied on reports from parents and teachers to say whether a child had ADHD, the new study tracked kids who were diagnosed according to ADHD medical codes entered by child and adolescent psychiatrists, developmental and behavioral pediatricians, child psychologists and neurologists.

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood disorders. Experts estimate that anywhere from 4 percent to 12 percent of school-age children are affected, many of whom continue to suffer from the disorder into adulthood.

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