ADHD Over-Diagnosis Creates American Epidemic

A report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that an increasing number of American children are being diagnosed with ADHD, but inadequately so.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) rates have been rising at about 5% a year for well over a decade. Overall, an estimated 6.4 million American children ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Meanwhile, ADHD rates have remained relatively low in other countries such as France, Finland, the United Kingdom, and Japan, where the number of children diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD is a meager 1 percent or less, according to family therapist Marilyn Wedge.

Is ADHD an American epidemic?

While much of the rise of ADHD can be attributed to improvements in recognition of the disorder, some in the medical community have expressed concerns about over-diagnosis.

In her book a “Disease Called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic” Wedge argues that different approaches to therapy, parenting, diet, and education may explain why rates of ADHD are so much higher in the U.S.

With the increase in ADHD diagnose resulting in doctors beginning to question whether or not these millions of children really have the disorder, the CDC undertook the much-needed effort of analyzing diagnostic methods.


Researchers found that there are limitations to the current process – notably when it involves children younger than 6 since very few diagnostic methods would prove accurate in children that young.

“Since many of the hallmark traits of ADHD can resemble typical behavior from a young child, it’s important for the disorder to be properly recognized, diagnosed and treated to determine when that line is crossed,” said Dr. Susanna Visser, lead author of the report and an epidemiologist with the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC.

The fact that 18 percent of kids involved in the study had received an ADHD diagnosis based just on how family members interpreted the children’s behaviors, is another problem, researchers found. This practice goes against AAP guidelines, which states that to make a diagnosis of ADHD the child should show symptoms in more than one major setting.

Although there is still plenty of room for improvement, the collective approach toward diagnosing ADHD, which involves clinical interview in combination with insights regarding the child’s environments, has proved effective.

What do you think of ADHD diagnostic methods? Share your views in the comments section below.