Just How Common Is ADHD?

Attention deficit disorder (ADHD) — in children and adults — is more common than you might have thought.

ADHD is more common than doctors may have previously believed, according to new statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report, released in November of 2013, shows that up to 11 percent of children aged 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives. In 2003, that estimate was only 7.8 percent. Boys are nearly three times more likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD (13.2 percent) than girls (5.6 percent). In adults, the rate is much lower (about 4 percent), but experts caution that since adults who were not diagnosed in childhood are more likely to remain undiagnosed, the true prevalence of adult ADHD may be significantly higher than reported.

“Looking at the changes in rates over time, the reader could have several reactions, but perhaps the most common one will be shock at the high and increasing rates of ADHD diagnoses,” says Dr. John T. Walkup, who wrote about the CDC study for the Journal of the American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

He adds, however, that the study shouldn’t be viewed in an entirely negative light. The CDC’s estimate is about the same as high-quality community-based studies over the past few years, suggesting the sharp increase in diagnoses from 2003 is accurate. “Further,” he says, “the rates of treated ADHD continue to be lower than the rate of ADHD diagnosis, suggesting a pattern of undertreatment of ADHD — not of overtreatment, as commonly thought.” Up to 17.5 percent of the children surveyed were not receiving either medication or mental health therapy to treat their ADHD.

The end results of the CDC’s study are clear, Dr. Walkup says. “The CDC data suggest that we are getting to a point when children with ADHD in the United States may actually be getting an opportunity for a diagnostic assessment and appropriate evidence-based treatment.”


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