Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Study finds ADHD is diagnosed and treated less than half the time

In Brief

Study finds ADHD is diagnosed and treated less than half the time

Researchers who analyzed survey results for a nationally representative sample of U.S. children ages 8 to 15, from 2001 to 2004, found that less than half who met the diagnostic criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had actually been diagnosed with it, and an even smaller proportion were being treated for the disorder.

Researchers from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center telephoned the parents or caregivers of more than 3,000 children originally identified through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to determine how many children had ADHD. They concluded that 8.7% of the children had symptoms that met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, a prevalence rate similar to that reported earlier by the National Survey of Children's Health.

But only 48% of the children with symptoms had actually been diagnosed with ADHD by a clinician, and only 32% of these children had been consistently treated with medication during the previous year. Although the study had limitations — most significantly, it relied on a parent's recall rather than objective medical or pharmacy records — the authors conclude that many children with clinically significant symptoms of ADHD are not getting the treatment they need.

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