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ADHD Prevalence Rising Among Hispanics, Girls, Study Finds


The percentage of Hispanic children ages 5 to 17 diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder increased by 83 percent between 2003 and 2011, far outstripping the 43 percent increase among children and youth overall, according to an analysis published online Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 

The rate of increase among girls was also higher than for boys, growing 55 percent from 2003 to 2011. In comparison, the rate of growth among boys was 40 percent.  

White males still make up the biggest number of children and youth diagnosed with ADHD. But the increasing prevalence among other groups raises interesting questions for researchers, said Sean Cleary, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at George Washington University. Cleary co-authored "Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Parent-Reported Diagnosis of ADHD" with Kevin Collins, an analyst with Mathematica Policy Research.

"Most people believe it's something that white males get diagnosed with," Cleary said. The figures show that ADHD may be affecting a more diverse group of children than previously imagined. However, the study, based on a parent survey, cannot dig out why certain groups are seeing sharper increases in prevalence, Cleary said. He and Collins hypothesized that Hispanic families may have greater access to health care and that the disorder is becoming more widely accepted in the community. As for girls, clinicians may be getting better at picking out the "quieter" symptoms of ADHD that girls often exhibit. 

How Common is ADHD?

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children with the disorder may be overly active, have trouble controlling impulsive behaviors, or have difficulty paying attention, the CDC says.  

The numbers came from the National Survey of Children's Health, which has been conducted every four years since 2003 by the National Center for Health Statistics, an agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In the survey, around 65,000 parents were asked if their children had received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder from a doctor or health-care provider. Based on the survey results, researchers estimate that the prevalence of ADHD rose from 8.3 percent in 2003 to 12 percent in 2011. That 43 percent increase corresponds to about 5.8 million children and youth with ADHD nationwide.

What the survey cannot tell is whether the prevalence number represents the "right" number of children diagnosed with ADHD, or whether there are issues of under- or overdiagnosis at play. However, Cleary said that concerned parents should err on the side of having their child evaluated. The problems that go with untreated ADHD, such as lack of organization and inattentativeness, may last throughout school and into adulthood, affecting a person's school and professional prospects, he said. 

"We recognize that there is a potential for overdiagnosis," Cleary said. "Of greater concern to me is if you have a child with ADHD that is not diagnosed." 

[CORRECTION: The original version of this post included an incorrect summary of the study results. It is the percentage of Hispanic children and youth with ADHD that has increased by 83 percent, not the number of Hispanic children and youth identified with ADHD.)

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