Are U.S. kids more rambunctious and unfocused than French kids? Probably not, but comparing the statistics on ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) between the two groups, it would appear so.
In the United States, at least 10 percent of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD and are taking some kind of pharmaceutical medication to deal with it. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5 percent.
The statistics for American children are startling: 19 percent of high school-age boys, ages 14 to 17, in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD and about 10 percent are taking medication for it. Ten percent of high school-age girls have likewise been diagnosed. Fifteen percent of all school-age boys have been diagnosed with ADHD and 7 percent of all school-age girls.
53 Percent Increase Over the Past Ten Years
The Centers for Disease Control conducted a survey last year, which found that an estimated 6.4 million children in the U.S. ages 4 to 17 had been diagnosed at some point, a 53 percent increase over the past decade. Approximately two-thirds of those currently diagnosed have been prescribed drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall.
ADHD is a disorder blamed for severe and frequent bouts of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity. Children and young adolescents are those who are most diagnosed with it. The increase in the number of young people diagnosed with ADHD is not actually unique to the U.S. Last month, doctors sounded a warning over a worldwide rise in rates of ADHD, saying some children may be needlessly taking powerful drugs intended to correct a poorly understood disorder.
The French Approach
France, however, with its .5 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD, is an exception. One reason is that French child psychiatrists, instead of treating children’s behavioral problems with drugs, prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.
Then, instead of prescribing medication, they tend to use psychotherapy or family counseling as treatment. Yes, instead of rushing to prescribe a cure-all drug, they look thoroughly into the causes of the child’s behavior.
In addition, child psychiatrists in France don’t use the same system of classification of childhood emotional problems as American psychiatrists, and their definition of ADHD is not as broad as in the American system.
So American kids and French kids aren’t that different, but the way they are treated is. Is it possible that the U.S., along with other countries, just has a bunch of lazy doctors who find it easier to prescribe whatever parents request, rather than conducting a thorough, holistic, analysis of their patients?
Nature and Exercise Can Improve ADHD
But there are some on both sides of the Atlantic who propose alternative healthy solutions to ADHD.
A growing body of research is revealing the positive effects that exercising outdoors can have on kids with ADHD.
Dr. David L. Katz, writing at health.msn.com described his experience:
When my colleagues and I conducted a study of our school-based physical activity program, ABC for Fitness, one of the findings was a 33% reduction in medication use for ADHD! I have long said that rambunctiousness in kids is normal and should be treated with recess, not Ritalin.
Then there’s the diet approach. Numerous studies have found that sugar, along with other types of unhealthy processed foods, can affect a child’s mental health, and that there is a link between ADHD and diet, specifically Western diets that include too many processed meats, full-fat dairy and unhealthy carbohydrates.
This is not to deny that some children do need drugs for their ADHD. As a teacher, I’ve seen the effects when a child forgets to go to the nurse at lunchtime to get his medication, and he becomes a completely different student in the afternoon.
However in other cases, isn’t it time that we took a step back, stopped relying on pills to solve everything, and considered natural solutions instead?
Are American Parents to Blame?
Writing in Psychology Today, Marilyn Wedge provides this provocative approach:
“As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don’t need medications to control their behavior because they learn self-control early in their lives. The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, parents are firmly in charge of their kids—instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.
Hmm… What do you think?
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