Is Poverty Contributing to the Rise in Childhood ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is on the rise among America’s children, but could it be that the tough economy is actually contributing to rising ADHD rates?
A research team from the University of Exeter Medical School, publishing in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that there is indeed an association between poverty and ADHD in kids.
The researchers analyzed a database of records from around 19,500 children that were collected as part of the Millennium Cohort Study. They found that significantly more children with ADHD come from families that are classed as being below the UK’s poverty line. In particular, the researchers found that those children who lived in social housing, renting their accommodation, were roughly three times more likely to have ADHD than those from families who owned or who were paying off a mortgage on their own homes. That’s not all, either.
The data showed that younger mothers, who tend to be poorer, were more likely to have a child with ADHD. Single parents were also more likely to have a child diagnosed with ADHD when compared to two-parent households. Furthermore, mothers without a university degree were more than twice as likely to have a child with ADHD than those who had one.
This research, while only establishing a possible link, may be important for a number of reasons, one of which is that it clarifies that ADHD doesn’t appear to be the cause of economic burdens, as has been previously thought, and may in fact be a symptom of economic disadvantage.
Lead researcher Dr Ginny Russell is quoted as saying, ”There is a genetic element to ADHD, but this study provides strong evidence that ADHD is also associated with a disadvantaged social and economic background. Some people believe that ADHD in children causes disadvantage to the economic situation of their family, but we found no evidence to support that theory. It’s important to discover more about the causes of this disorder so that we can look towards prevention, and so that we can target treatment and support effectively.”
ADHD is a group of behavioral symptoms that is characterized by a short attention span, difficulty in settling or keeping still, and an inability to ignore distractions. While ADHD has been diagnosed in a variety of children of all intellectual abilities, those with learning difficulties tend to be more likely to develop the disorder than those who aren’t affected by such challenges.
This latest study comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases its own data showing that 1 in 10 US children may now have been diagnosed with ADHD.
The CDC’s analysis is based on a 2011 poll of more than 95,000 parents and showed that about 6.4 million children aged 4 to 17 in that sample (11%) had been diagnosed with ADHD. That figure is up from what was reported in 2007 when the figure came in at 9.7%. The analysis also showed that the number of children being placed on ADHD medications like Ritalin rose by one million between 2003 and 2012.
Perhaps most concerning is that the survey data showed around 18% of kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD didn’t receive psychiatric support or drug therapy during the 2011-2012 period.
“This finding suggests that there are a large number of young children who could benefit from the early initiation of behavioral therapy, which is recommended as the first-line treatment for preschool children with ADHD,” study author and CDC researcher Susanna Visser is quoted as saying.
In terms of good news, however, the analysis does seem to suggest that the rise in new ADHD diagnoses is starting to slow after booming since the turn of the century, going from a 6% rise during the early and mid 2000s to 4% between 2007-2011.
ADHD has proved a difficult disorder to diagnose as the line between normal childhood attention problems and the disorder is, for many parents, hard to distinguish. Children may simply be thought of as being “bad” or “disruptive” rather than their condition being recognized. By the same token, a certain prejudice against a perceived over-diagnosis of ADHD has also taken hold, spurred on by the fact that the diagnostic criteria for ADHD has in the past seemed quite wide reaching and generalized.
While no conclusive link between a poor economic background and ADHD rates has yet been made, a growing body of evidence points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including economic tensions, as being likely to lead to ADHD — and it is the environmental factors that will be key in discerning treatment and prevention options.
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