ADHD News & Research

ADHD Diagnoses in Children and Teens: 10 Percent and Holding Steady

A new report by the CDC quantifies kids diagnosed with ADHD in the U.S., according to age group, gender, and race.

May 18, 2015

A new report, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finds that 9.5 percent of children and teenagers in the United States have been formally diagnosed with ADHD. That number has remained mostly unchanged since 2007, when diagnoses leveled out after a decades-long increase.

Four- and five-year-olds were still the least likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD, with a diagnosis rate of only 3 percent. That number jumped to 9.5 percent for six- to 11-year-olds, and peaked at 12 percent for teens, ages 12 to 17. In all age groups, boys were twice as likely to have been diagnosed as girls — a trend that has continued since ADHD was first brought to national attention.

“It is unclear why ADHD is more common in boys than girls, though the male predominance appears to be greatest among kids who are hyperactive and impulsive, not just inattentive,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, who was not involved in the new study. The preschool age group showed the greatest disparity between boys and girls, he said, since symptoms of inattention often aren’t noticed until formal schoolwork begins.

Socioeconomic factors played a role, too, with lower-income children and those with public insurance more likely to have ADHD than their wealthier counterparts. Those with no insurance at all, however, were the least likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD — likely due to an overall lack of medical attention. White children were the most highly diagnosed racial group within the 6-11 and 12-17 age groups, with Hispanic children across all age groups being the least likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

The numbers, especially for teens, may be a little misleading, researchers say, because many of them once diagnosed with ADHD may have outgrown it by the time the survey was taken. On top of that, the survey relied exclusively on parent reports, not medical records — leading to a possibility that parents could misreport or misremember years-old diagnoses. The report would also miss those who likely have ADHD, but have not been formally diagnosed — particularly those without insurance, researchers say.

On the other hand, overdiagnosis is a possibility, too. Recent research indicates that some children and teens with ADHD may have been misdiagnosed, meaning that the overall numbers may need to be taken with a grain of salt.

However, the results offers a snapshot of ADHD across the United States, giving educators and health-care providers a benchmark by which to measure their communities. The results could possibly shed light on areas of the country where ADHD is over- or underdiagnosed.

The survey results were published by the CDC on May 14, 2015.