The number of U.S. children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder rose by about 1 million, reflecting more premature births and increased awareness among parents and doctors, researchers said earlier this week.

About 1 in 10 school-aged children was diagnosed with the illness at some time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday, citing a survey conducted in 2007 and 2008. That translates to as many as 5.4 million kids, a 23 percent increase from the 2003 level.

Health-care professionals have to prepare themselves to treat the cases, particularly among older adolescents and Hispanics, said Susanna Visser, an epidemiologist at the Atlanta-based CDC and the report’s lead author. The nation spends at least $3.3 billion a year on the disease, she said, citing an agency study.

“ADHD has almost become a household name in the U.S.,” Visser said in a telephone interview. “Doctors and other health-care professionals have to be ready for the 1 million more children who will need to be managed.”

Some of the increase may reflect diagnoses made after anxious parents pushed for help for behavioral problems in children, Visser said.

The survey, relying on parents’ reporting, isn’t the only evidence of a rise in diagnoses of the disorder, she said.

“We have also seen even higher incidence of the disease in community-based studies that have been conducted,” Visser said. Visser is the lead epidemiologist for the Child Development Studies Team at the CDC’s National Center for Birth Defects & Developmental Disabilities.

The disorder is a neurobehavioral illness that typically begins in childhood and can persist, according to the CDC report. The symptoms are difficulty staying focused, paying attention or controlling behavior, and hyperactivity, according to the website of the National Institute of Mental Health, in Bethesda, Md.

Of the 73,123 parents who completed the survey in 2007 or 2008, 9.5 percent reported having received an ADHD diagnosis for a child at some point; 7.2 percent reported having a child with a current diagnosis for the disorder, and 4.8 percent said they had a child on medication for the malady.

The prevalence of ADHD diagnoses among Hispanic children rose 53 percent over 4 years, according to the report. The 5.6 percent rate for Hispanics remained lower than the non-Hispanic rate of 10.5 percent.

The children were divided into three age groups. The oldest — teens ages 15 to 17 — showed the biggest increase in diagnoses of the disorder, according to the report.

Among the states, Alabama at 11 percent had the highest incidence of ADHD, with Colorado at 5 percent having the lowest. New York’s rate was 6.3 percent. California’s was 5.3 percent, and the figure for Texas was 7.7 percent, the researchers said.

More than half a million babies in the United States –one in 8 born every year — are premature, according to the CDC.


Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at