It’s hardly surprising to learn that more children receive the ADHD diagnosis today. A new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that the number of ADHD diagnosis among children in the United States went up 22% in four years – from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007. These findings are certainly consistent with other research on the rapid rise of the ADHD diagnosis around the world. However, I’m more interested in finding out why this is happening. What could be causing this so-called ADHD epidemic? Here, I posit four possible reasons.
Better ADHD awareness
Increased awareness about ADHD may have contributed to the rise of the diagnosis. Most parents are already familiar with the hallmark symptoms of ADHD, and are quick to see a doctor if they think their child might have the disorder. If not, it is usually a teacher who notices the symptoms and suggests that the child be taken for an evaluation.
However, this increased awareness is a double-edged sword. On one hand, children whose ADHD symptoms interfere with their family life, school performance, and peer relationships will finally receive the help they need. On the other hand, this cultural acceptance of ADHD is something pharmacological companies can exploit. After all, stimulant medications are still the most popular treatment for the disorder, and it is certainly in their interest to increase the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.
The CDC’s data was based on parents who said that their doctor told them that their child has ADHD. However, the researchers did not note how thorough the assessment was. This leads me to my second point. ADHD is almost certainly over-diagnosed, and doctors are often too quick to medicate hyperactive children. The rapid increase in the ADHD diagnosis does not necessarily reflect a real rise in the actual condition; rather, it could suggest an increase in the number of children who receive the ADHD label. It’s not enough to slap this label onto children and give them a one-size-fits-all treatment. For long-term improvement, doctors need to find out what’s causing the symptoms and treat the cause – not the symptoms themselves.
Accessibility of consumer electronics
Virtually all teenagers and adolescents have their own mobile devices, computers, video game consoles, and television sets. Studies show that these gadgets can decrease attention span and aggravate sleep problems, which makes a child lethargic, hyperactive, or aggressive the following day. What may seem like ADHD to a parent or teacher may actually be exposure to too much technology.
The typical Western diet
Medical professionals are quick to attribute ADHD to genetics or a neurotransmitter deficiency. However, little attention is paid to the fact that the brain needs nutrient in order to function properly. The typical Western diet provides very little of the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids needed for proper brain function. In addition, most processed foods contain artificial additives that trigger ADHD. Several studies have confirmed that children who depend on fast food and processed foods for their daily nourishment are more likely to have ADHD than those whose diets contain a lot of fruits, vegetable, meat, and fish.
ADHD is not a fad – it is a real disorder that affects the well-being of children and their families. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking your child to a doctor to find out if he or she is really suffering from a problem. However, it is likely that many children diagnosed with ADHD today are mistakenly thought to have the condition by a worried parent or teacher. And many parents are quick to believe that ADHD medications are the solution, without considering other safer, more effective treatments for the disorder.