Most Kids with ADHD Aren't Getting the Treatment They Need

Nearly two and a half million children in the U.S. have ADHD—but less than one-third have a treatment plan that includes consistent medication use, researchers say.

Wednesday September 5th - 11:19am

Nearly nine percent of children in the U.S. have attention-deficit disorder, but fewer than half have been diagnosed with the condition or are receiving appropriate treatment, according to a groundbreaking new study that used the DSM-IV to determine the prevalence of ADHD.

A team of researchers surveyed 3,082 children aged eight to 15 years old who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. From 2001 to 2004, Tanya E. Froehlich, M.D., of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and her colleagues interviewed parents about their children's symptoms in the prior year, whether they were diagnosed with ADHD, and whether they had taken medication.

The researchers concluded that 8.7 percent of those surveyed—equivalent to about 2.4 million American children—met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, but fewer than half (47.9 percent) had received a diagnosis by a health professional, and most weren't getting the medication they needed. Among children with ADHD, only 38.8 percent received medication in the last year, and even fewer (32 percent) received medication on a regular basis.

Froehlich and her colleagues also found that children in low-income homes were least likely to be on a consistent treatment plan, even though they were the most likely to have ADHD. (Researchers attributed the higher presence of ADHD in this group to risk factors such as prenatal tobacco exposure, lead exposure, and low birth weight.) What's more, boys were twice as likely to have ADHD, but girls were more likely go undiagnosed, and white children were more likely to have ADHD than were Hispanic and black children.

"There is a public perception that U.S. children are overdiagnosed and overmedicated for ADHD," said Froehlich, in a press release. "But what is clear from our study is that, among U.S. children currently suffering from the disorder, the opposite problem of underdiagnosis and undertreatment of ADHD appears to be occurring."

Robert Kahn, M.D., a physician at Cincinnati Children's and the study's senior author, added, "Our report is not a call for increased use of medication, but certainly is a call for improved efforts to diagnose ADHD so that children with the disorder can receive the most appropriate treatment."

The findings were published in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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