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CDC report finds 1 in 9 American kids has been diagnosed with ADHD

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

More and more children in the U.S. are being diagnosed with ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That's a developmental disorder that causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. A new report from federal researchers finds that one out of every nine kids have been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives. Here to tell us more is NPR health correspondent Maria Godoy. Hi, Maria.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So, Maria, how many kids are we talking about here?

GODOY: A lot of kids - so, this new report comes from CDC researchers, and they found that just over 7 million children and adolescents have gotten an ADHD diagnosis at some point in their lives. That's a million more kids than were diagnosed eight years ago.

RASCOE: Do we know what's driving this increase? Do more kids have ADHD, or are we just more aware of it?

GODOY: Yeah, so better awareness and diagnosis is a big factor here. One researcher I talked to said one thing that probably happened is that kids were being screened for other issues, and then their doctors picked up on their ADHD too. And of course, kids were home doing virtual school during the pandemic, so parents could see their kids' attention problems firsthand. And you know, interestingly, the study found that more girls are now being diagnosed with ADHD than they used to be.

RASCOE: Why would that be? Like, why more girls?

GODOY: So, ADHD used to be thought of as only a hyperactivity or impulsivity disorder because that's how it tends to manifest in boys. Here's Melissa Danielson with the CDC. She's the study's lead author.

MELISSA DANIELSON: Boys often will have kind of hyperactive or impulsive ADHD where they'll run out into the street or jump off things or do things that might make them more likely to be injured.

GODOY: But ADHD looks different. In girls, they tend to have more inattention, so they might be daydreaming, or they hyperfocus on a task, even though it might not be the thing that they're supposed to be focusing on. And now that doctors know that difference, they're getting better at spotting ADHD in girls. The new report found the gender differences in diagnoses are narrowing, which is actually a good thing.

RASCOE: Why is that good, that more kids are being diagnosed?

GODOY: Because it's really important to treat ADHD. Dr. Max Wiznitzer is a professor of pediatric neurology at Case Western Reserve University. He says kids who go undiagnosed with ADHD can have a lot of problems not just at school, but at home.

MAX WIZNITZER: I had a girl, a teenager, who was clearly symptomatic, but never been formally diagnosed. And it's causing chaos and mayhem within the family unit because people believe all her behaviors are deliberate in nature.

GODOY: When really, it's just the way her brain works. He said this particular patient was never ready for school on time. She got sidetracked doing chores. And these are the issues that medication and behavioral therapy can help address because they give kids and their parents strategies to manage ADHD, so kids can function better at home and in school. And the earlier kids get help, the better.

RASCOE: What sort of problems are they at risk for?

GODOY: Kids with ADHD are at higher risk of things like depression and anxiety in childhood. And then as adults, they face greater risk of health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease. So if ADHD is being spotted in more kids, they can get the help they need.

RASCOE: Do researchers know what causes ADHD?

GODOY: They're not really sure, but there's strong evidence that genetics plays a big role. Treatment involves a combination of medication to address symptoms like impulsivity, hyperactivity, inattention, and then behavioral therapy. So things like mindful breathing, coping skills to help with time management, establishing routines at home that help keep kids on track. These are skills that are crucial for parents, actually, too, that they learn it, so they can help their kids.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Maria Godoy. Thank you so much, Maria.

GODOY: Oh, it's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.