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ADHD has surged by almost 70 percent in the last 20 years, study finds

Diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have surged by nearly 70 percent among American children, a new report reveals. 

The common behavioral disorder now affects more than 10 percent of the under-18 population in the US. 

While ADHD is a very manageable condition, research suggests it may be implicated in a number of other health issues, ranging from obesity to dementia (for adults with ADHD) and even suicide among girls. 

Encouragingly, increasing rates of diagnosed ADHD among black children and girls may be the results of improved access to mental health care, subsiding stigma and better symptom descriptions, the University of Iowa study authors suggest. 

Since 1997, rates of ADHD among American children have trended steadily upward, from six percent 20 years ago, to 10.2 percent by 2016, a University of Iowa study reveals 

It is approaching 40 years since ADHD was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’s (DSM) third addition in 1980. 

In the latter half of its existence (the last 20 years), rates of ADHD have increased from 6.1 percent to 10.2 percent, according to the new study, published in JAMA Network Open. 

ADHD remains more common among boys than girls, with more than twice as many male children diagnosed with the disorder (14 percent) as girls (6.3 percent). 

Some 70-80 percent of risk factors for ADHD are thought to be genetic and passed down through families, according to the new study. 

But it is unclear if boys have any greater genetic predisposition for the condition. 

The University of Iowa investigators suspect that the disparity between the genders has largely been the result of under-diagnosis of girls. 

Most girls tend not to display the hyperactive component of the disorder so obviously. 

Instead, they are simply distractible and struggle to keep their focus on their school work or other tasks. 

This unique presentation was only recently added to diagnostic guidelines and the authors believe that their data – collected between 1997 and 2016 – shows that that the change has improved doctors’ ability to catch the disorder in girls. 

Increases in diagnoses were obviously seen across the board, but the authors noted that the change in rates among black and Hispanic children may actually signal broader improvements in American health care. 

They suggested that more children in these historically underserved populations are being diagnosed thanks to better access to mental health care in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. 

It may be too that as mental and behavioral health have been more commonly – and diversely – portrayed in media, stigma surrounding ADHD and other disorders is beginning to dissipate. 


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