A new study of health records from California found the rate of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) rose dramatically between 2001 and 2010. The study found white children from high-income homes are most likely to be diagnosed with ADHD but it also found a spike in new diagnosis amongst black girls.
The Kaiser Permanente study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found there was a 90 percent increase in the diagnosis of ADHD among non-Hispanic black girls during the same nine-year period.
The study examined the electronic health records of nearly 850,000 ethnically diverse children, aged 5 to 11 years, who received care at Kaiser Permanente Southern California between 2001 and 2010. It found that among these children, 4.9 percent, or 39,200, had a diagnosis of ADHD, with white and black children more likely to be diagnosed with the neurobehavioral disorder than Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islander children. For instance, in 2010, 5.6 percent of white children in the study had an ADHD diagnosis; 4.1 percent of blacks; 2.5 percent of Hispanics; and 1.2 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders.
The study also examined increases in the rates of first-time ADHD diagnosis. Researchers found that the incidence of newly diagnosed ADHD cases rose from 2.5 percent in 2001 to 3.1 percent in 2010 — a relative increase of 24 percent. Black children showed the greatest increase in ADHD incidence, from 2.6 percent of all black children 5 to 11 years of age in 2001 to 4.1 percent in 2010, a 70 percent relative increase. Rates among Hispanic children showed a 60 percent relative increase, from 1.7 percent in 2001 to 2.5 percent in 2010. White children showed a 30 percent relative increase, from 4.7 percent in 2001 to 5.6 percent in 2010, while rates for Asian/Pacific Islander children and other racial groups remained unchanged over time.
“While the reasons for increasing ADHD rates are not well understood, contributing factors may include heightened awareness of ADHD among parents and physicians, which could have led to increased screening and treatment,” said study lead author Darios Getahun , MD, PhD, from Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s Department of Research & Evaluation.. “This variability may indicate the need for different allocation of resources for ADHD prevention programs, and may point to new risk factors or inequalities in care.”
It’s important to note this study only analyzed Kaiser Permenante patients.
“I’m concerned that this paper will raise concerns that are not justified,” Benjamin Lahey, a psychologist at the University of Chicago told USA Today. Lahey was on a scientific panel in the 1990s that helped develop the current definition of ADHD and questions the study’s methods and validity.
“It certainly should not lead to the conclusion that there’s an increase in the prevalence of ADHD in the United States,” Lahey said.