MONDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) -- A new Canadian study
provides more evidence that too many young kids may be diagnosed
with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, simply
because they're younger than their peers in the same
Researchers found that nearly 7 percent of boys aged 6 to 12
were diagnosed with ADHD overall, but the percentage ranged from
5.7 percent for those who were the oldest in their grade levels to
7.4 percent for the youngest. There was a similar gap for girls,
although they're much less likely to be diagnosed.
The findings, which are similar to those from U.S. studies,
don't prove definitively that any kids are being wrongly diagnosed
with ADHD or being diagnosed purely because they're younger than
Still, "it's good for parents to know about this," said study
author Richard Morrow, a health research analyst at the University
of British Columbia. "In general, the younger you are within your
grade, the more likely you are to receive this diagnosis and get
ADHD is a controversial developmental disorder, and there's been
debate about whether it is overdiagnosed. The researchers launched
the study to determine whether a student's age in relation to his
or her peers may have something to do with the likelihood of
The study authors examined the records of over 930,000 kids in
British Columbia who were between the ages of 6 and 12, during the
time period from 1997 to 2008. They focused on differences between
kids born in January (who'd typically be the oldest in their
classes) and December (who'd typically be the youngest due to
cut-off dates for school enrollment).
The level of ADHD diagnosis was lowest for kids born early in
the year -- the oldest ones in their classes -- and highest for
those born later in the year. Kids born in January and December had
the lowest and highest rates, respectively: 5.7 percent of boys and
1.6 percent of girls for those born in January, and 7.4 percent of
boys and 2.7 percent of girls among those born in December.
Boys born in December were 30 percent more likely to be
diagnosed and 41 percent more likely to be treated with ADHD
medications than boys born in January were, while the youngest
girls were 70 percent more likely to be diagnosed and 77 percent
more likely to be treated with medications than the oldest girls
were, the study found.
"There is no reason for them to have this kind of difference in their diagnosis," Morrow said. "The way we would interpret that is that there are differences in maturity that are coming into play."
In other words, physicians and teachers may think kids have ADHD
when they're actually just younger and less mature than their
Richard Milich, a professor of psychology at the University of
Kentucky who studies ADHD, said the findings make sense considering
that the disorder is difficult to diagnose, especially at younger
When ADHD becomes an issue, Milich said, parents should be aware
of this kind of research and bring it up with their pediatrician or
whomever else is appropriate. However, "I hope it doesn't get to
the point that people say it's not a valid disorder," he said.
Kids with ADHD "do poorer in school, they're more likely to be
left behind and more likely to drop out of school early. Across the
board, they are impaired," Milich said. "Whether you want to call
it a disorder or not, we know that's what they're at risk for."
The study appears in the March 5 issue of the
CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
For more about
ADHD, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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