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MD mama

Scary new statistics about ADHD

Adapted from the MD Mama blog on Boston.com.

More than 1 in 10 children in the United States have

That’s astounding — and frightening.

New statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 in the United States have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD — an increase of 41 percent since 2003, when 7.8 percent were diagnosed.

Some of that rise is because of a greater awareness of ADHD; therefore it is diagnosed more. But some of that growth represents a real increase.

The majority of kids with ADHD (69 percent) are taking medications. While it’s good that they are getting treatment, a study earlier this year showed that taking medications doesn’t necessarily help kids academically. Behavioral therapy can make a difference, especially when kids get to learn life skills to manage their ADHD, but not everybody gets therapy or life skills training.

And life skills are what they need, because ADHD is not just a condition of childhood. Another study published this year showed that it often persists into adulthood, and people who had ADHD as children were more likely to suffer from other problems such as alcohol or drug abuse, anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems. They are also more likely to try to commit suicide.


I guess that’s what’s freaking me out about these statistics. This isn’t just about a few more active and distracted kids who struggle in school and with friendships and with keeping out of trouble. This is about the adults those kids will grow into — adults who are likely to struggle in many ways too, and whose struggles are likely to affect those around them in just as many ways.

In families, it puts stress on parents and marriages and siblings. It plays out in classrooms, too: These numbers translate into at least two kids with
ADHD in every classroom, which can affect everyone’s learning. It costs our health care and educational system millions of dollars. Adults with ADHD can end up needing resources to help them, and those resources cost money too. The ripple effects of 11 percent of children having ADHD could be staggering.


It’s becoming clear that ADHD is a public health problem — like obesity or heart disease or HIV. We will never succeed in tackling it if we don’t start thinking of it that way, and give it real attention, thought, and resources. But unlike with other public health problems, we don’t really understand all of the causes of ADHD or the best way to treat it. Which makes fighting it hard.

We need to take this problem as seriously as we’ve taken cancer or asthma or influenza. This isn’t a problem of a few badly behaving kids; this is much bigger and more dangerous. We need to find better ways to prevent and treat it.

There are lives that need saving. Let’s not wait any longer. Let’s get started.

Read more of this blog at www.boston.com/mdmama.