Researcher calls spike in ADHD diagnoses 'very significant'

| Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, 6:52 p.m.

A study of health records from California suggests that rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have jumped by 24 percent since 2001.

“That is a very significant increase,” says Darios Getahun, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Group who conducted the study.

The apparent rise in diagnoses is likely caused by growing awareness of the condition among parents and doctors, he and other specialists said.

The study looked at health records of more than 840,000 children, ages 5 to 11, who met a strict definition for ADHD, as diagnosed by a trained expert. It found that 2.5 percent of children were diagnosed with ADHD at the start of the study in 2001, vs. 3.1 percent in 2010.

The percentage diagnosed is lower than in many other studies because of the strict diagnostic criteria and because, unlike other research, the study relied only on health records, not parents' reports, Getahun says.

The study, published in Monday's issue of JAMA Pediatrics, was large enough to break down those diagnosed by gender, race, family income and age. It found that boys were three times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. That may suggest that boys are more vulnerable to ADHD, as they are to autism, Getahun said.

It may be because girls with the condition are often overlooked, said pediatrician Craig Garfield of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

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