There has been a huge upswing in the number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the past decade, according to a new report by The New York Times that analyzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Based on the Times' analysis, 11 percent of school-age children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to their parents. Among highschoolers, the numbers were even higher: 10 percent of 14 to 17 year old girls had been diagnosed with the disorder, and nearly 20 percent of boys.
The New York Times compiled the results from a larger CDC survey that gathered data on the physical and emotional health of children up to age 17 from 2011 to 2012. That same report also recently made headlines with its finding that 1 in 50 children in the U.S. had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, according to their parents -- significantly more than just five years before.
According to the CDC, the first-ever national survey asking parents about the prevalence of ADHD was conducted in 1999, and since that time, there has been a "clear upward trend" in national estimates based on parental report. In 2007, the prevalence of parent-reported ADHD was 9.5 percent.
ADHD -- which is now one of the most common childhood disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health -- is characterized by difficulty focusing and paying attention, as well as hyperactivity and impulsivity.
The New York Times report on the CDC figures is not the only one in recent months to suggest that ADHD diagnoses are on the rise. A January study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that relied on electronic records from 5 to 11 year olds treated at Kaiser Permanente in California found that the rate at which kids are being diagnosed with the disorder has increased by almost 25 percent in the past decade. At this point, researchers do not fully understand what is behind the increase.
But with the surge in diagnoses has come an increase in the number of children taking drugs for the disorder. Previous CDC estimates suggest that 66 percent of children with a current diagnosis were taking medication. Recent research has raised questions about the efficacy of treatment: A February study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that pre-school age children treated with medication did not appear to have less severe symptoms than their counterparts who were not taking medication, and that nine out of 10 children with more serious symptoms continued to experience issues six years after they'd been originally diagnosed.
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