ADHD Diagnosis in Kids Is Increasing

Is diagnosis of ADHD on the rise? A study by Kaiser Permanente finds that boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit than girls — and that rates of diagnosis appear to have jumped in the past decade.

One thing is for sure: ADDitude readers who raise children with attention deficit are not alone, and seem to have more and more company.

A new study of health records conducted by Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Group suggests that rates of diagnosis have jumped by 24 percent since 2001.

The apparent rise in diagnosis may be explained by increased awareness of the condition among parents and doctors, says Darios Getahun, a research scientist with Kaiser Permanente.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, concludes that boys were three times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. One explanation for the diagnosis discrepancy may be that girls with the condition are often overlooked because they are more likely to show signs of inattention as opposed to hyperactivity. As a result, the disorder often goes unnoticed and untreated.

Other key points from the study:

>> The gender gap is closing among black Americans, with a lot of the increase over the past decade explained by a rise in diagnoses among black girls.

>> Children of higher-income families are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, perhaps because their families are more concerned with their school performance and are more likely to have their child diagnosed.

Some researchers argue that the study has weaknesses and should not set off alarm bells about an ADHD epidemic.

“It is my impression that absolute rates of ADHD diagnoses are fairly stable over time, from country to country as well,” says Paul Hammerness, an ADHD expert at Harvard Medical School.