ADHD News & Research

Study: Caregiver Wellbeing Linked to ADHD Symptoms in Toddlers

The prevalence of ADHD in toddlers is linked to caregiver wellbeing — namely physical health, mental health, and employment status — according to a new research studying the social determinants of health (SDH) are the strongest drivers for increased risk of ADHD among preschool-age children.

March 4, 2021

Caregiver wellbeing — namely poor physical health, mental health, and/or employment status — is associated with increased symptoms of ADHD in toddlers, according to a new study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.1 The causality of this relationship remains unclear, though the findings could suggest including caregiver wellness screenings in early childhood pediatric appointments and ADHD evaluations.

Researchers examined the relationship between social determinants of health (SDH) and ADHD symptoms in a national sample of 7,565 preschool-age children using exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and exploratory structural equation modeling (ESEM).

Independently, socioeconomic status, access to basic needs, and caregiver wellbeing were all significantly associated with higher symptoms of ADHD. However, researchers found that socioeconomic status and access to basic needs were no longer significantly associated with ADHD symptoms in the model that included all three factors: only worse caregiver wellbeing (β = .39, p < .01) was significantly associated with ADHD symptoms.

One possibility for these findings is that “poor caregiver health may decrease the quality time spent by a caregiver with their child, thus leading to or exacerbating ADHD symptoms in young children,” or that “ADHD symptoms in young children worsen caregiver health and reduce likelihood of employment.”

This is the first study to suggest that the association between social detriments of health and ADHD is fully mediated by worse caregiver wellbeing, instead of poverty itself. These findings speak to the importance of interventions focused on the health of caregivers with young children that could mitigate the severity of symptoms of ADHD in toddlers.

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1Spencer AE, Oblath R, Sheldrick RC, Ng LC, Silverstein M, Garg A. Social Determinants of Health and ADHD Symptoms in Preschool-Age Children. Journal of Attention Disorders. March 2021. doi:10.1177/1087054721996458