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.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W4 years ago

very sad

Jenna Summers
Jennifer B4 years ago

I knew plenty of rich kids with ADD. I dont think poverty contributes to it, I think there are just too many doctors willing to diagnose it to kids who are unruly, but not impaired. Big Pharma figured out that medicating kids to make them behave was a great way to line its pockets.

Sharon Beth Long
Sharon Beth Long4 years ago

I agree that part of it may be due to diet as junk food are much cheaper per calorie than healthy food but there may be a couple of other factors. ASS is partially hereditary. Those who have not been professionally as successful because of ADHD or ADD may be poorer and their kids may hav e inherited their ADD. Also there is a liink beteeen drug and alcohol usage in pregnancy and ADD. Pooere parents are more likely to be involved in drugs and alcohol. I came from a middle class background and have ADD. My mother believes that ti may be due to the diet pill which were amphetamines that she took when she was pregnant with me (in the 1950s people were unaware of the dangers of amphetamines). In addition there may be less decorum and more agitation yelling etc in a poorer home. Finally, I do not know about the schools in England but in the United States schools have been put under tremendous pressure to have high test scores for their students. One way to raise the school's students' average test scores is by throwing as many kids as possible into special education or at least get them out of the testing pool with diagnosis such as ADD.

K B.
K B4 years ago

Adhd is being diagnosed at a previously unheard of rate. Since there is a diagnosis, there might as well be a solution to how it is managed, since the children spend most of their time at school. Please sign petition to educate School teachers and staff so they can be more humane and compassionate towards adhd children. Remember stories about children who are forcibly secluded and isolated. This is NOT how a special needs child should be treated.
or just type 'adhd' in search

John B.
John B4 years ago

Poverty definitely contributes to ADHD as pharmaceutical companies want to be rich so they had their buddies the psychs make up this fraudulent condition known as ADHD so they can drug kids by the tens of thousands and make a bundle.

Parents buy into this scheme as it gives them a reason that they don't have to fully take responsibility for their child. The pyschs give parents an excuse. My child has ADHD so it means I have no responsibility for the condition of my child.

Myriam G.
Myriam G4 years ago

Is it really poverty, or rather "morosity", that contributes to the rise in ADHD? Is it the low income, or the lower level of hope and enthusiasm that people with lower income can sometimes experience that really causes ADHD in their children?

Now, I don't mean to say that all the people who have lower income are depressed, really not. But the factors associated with lower income (bad housing situation, etc) can be very depressing for some, as well as other factors named in the article (being a young single parent, etc). Wouldn't that also have an incidence on the children being rased in this situation?

Could we find ways to give back some hope to people who are struggling with the money situation? I know, it's not easy, it's even very difficult, but our society can't keep hindering the lives of little kids like this...

Linda McKellar
Past Member 4 years ago

Jacob, too bad you weren't deprived of those awful vaccines and antibiotics. Then you might not be here to spew your BS at the rest of us. At your age you should at least remember the ravages of polio, smallpox and bacterial infections. A short memory leads to repeated stupid mistakes.

Jacob Ross
Jacob Ross4 years ago

"Is Poverty Contributing to the Rise in Childhood ADHD?"

No - look no further than vaccinations, drugs and the chemical soup that our kids are subjected to from the age of 6 weeks!

Poor kids that are not bombarded with chemicals are less likely to suffer from ADHD.

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra Rodda4 years ago

I wonder whether some ADHD is really attention seeking behavior. Poor parents who have to work themselves into exhaustion every day, often do not have the energy to give their children the attention they so desperately need to develop normally.

Shirley S.
Shirley S4 years ago

I have often suspected that food additives are the real culprit.