ADHD Prevalence on the Rise

In one of the few long-term studies on the prevalence of ADHD in the US, researchers at the University of Iowa recently found the number of diagnosed cases of ADHD has increased significantly during the past 20 years—from 6.1% to 10.2%.

While the study was not designed to explore reasons for the increase, experts suggest possible contributing factors include greater awareness of the condition among physicians, parents and the general public, changes in diagnostic criteria, and increased access to healthcare services.

Behind the Numbers

According to an article in Medscape, a research team lead by Wei Bao, MD, PhD analyzed data from 186,457 youths ages 4 to 17 years who participated in the National Health Interview Survey (a nationwide, population-based, cross-sectional survey conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics) from 1997 to 2016.

In an editorial that accompanied publication of the study in JAMA Network Open, Daniel Dickstein, MD noted that:

Taken as a whole, this study suggests we should keep paying attention to ADHD because many important unknowns remain. These include ways to improve the effectiveness of how we diagnose and treat ADHD in the real world for all, not just those who can pay out of pocket, through policy and research geared at improving the quality of mental health care. We also need to understand why our medication and behavior treatments are quite effective in reducing ADHD target behaviors of impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity, yet data show that not all children have clear-cut improvements in academic achievement over the long haul.

With the increase in prevalence, Dr. Dickstein concludes, “the answers to these questions are all the more important for the children and families of today and of tomorrow.”

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