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Can Four Million Kids All be Sick?

ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) is being diagnosed in so many children, that over four million children in the US are now officially classified as having it. The highest rates of diagnosis are among Caucasian children from educated families, probably because these parents can afford to send their children to doctors who can diagnose it. But when that many people have a disorder, statisticians usually say it's part of our culture and we should deal with it on a broad level, such as advising families to change their eating or TV watching habits, rather than treating it individually. ADHD may simply be a normal part of being a kid in our culture.

Four million is over 15% of the children in the US. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of children will be 77.6 million by the year 2020. CDC epidemiologist Suzanne Visser says, "This is the first report that has enumerated the number of children who have ever had an ADHD diagnosis and are currently medicated...That is a new number, and it is a large number."

ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder characterized by hyperactivity and the inability to pay attention. Too much sugar in children?s diets, usually in the form of sugared soft drinks, has been blamed for this condition. Researchers also blame too much TV watching, since television is produced in short segments, punctuated by loud, action-filled advertisements that are designed to catch our attention for a short period of time. This conditions the brain to be unable to concentrate on a single subject for a long period of time.

Psychologist David Marks says, "Certainly, we know that ADHD has pretty far-reaching consequences--It is really taking a very substantial toll on society. Individuals with ADHD across the developmental spectrum are at greater risk for a whole assortment of psychosocial consequences. In adulthood they miss work more, they're more likely to get fired, they're more likely to receive negative work reviews."

In 2003, about 4.4 million children aged 4 to 17 were diagnosed with ADHD at some point. Of these, 56% were given medication. "We noted that children who had any form of healthcare coverage are more likely to be given a diagnosis of ADHD or medicated for it," Visser says. "We also noted some racial and ethnic differences in both diagnosis and treatment. Those require further attention."

Different states diagnose different rates of ADHD, possibly because the number of affluent, educated families in each state varies. But the statistics are not always straightforward: Alabama, which has a large number of poor people, has the highest diagnosis rate in the US of 11%, while Colorado?a much more middle-class state?has the lowest diagnosis rate of 5%. The ages at which the largest number of children start taking medication is age 11 and 12, which is also the age when many children start reaching puberty. The fewest number of children who receive medication for this condition live in California, perhaps because of the large number of Mexican immigrants living at a low income level there, who can't afford the medicine, which can be expensive.

Boys are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. Some doctors think this is an overreaction to boys' natural tendency to be more aggressive, due to testosterone, and that school classes should be designed to accommodate this, rather than medicating individual boys. Frequent recess breaks are necessary for boys to do well in school.

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James Kunstler is hyperactive when it comes to predicting the future! Be sure to tune into Dreamland, when he tells us what's ahead for us.

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