A few days ago, the New York Times published an article about the rising rates of ADHD in US children. Specifically, the article reported that there has been a 16% increase in the number of kids diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder since 2007. Currently, 1 in 5 US boys are diagnosed with ADHD, and 11% of all children are given the diagnosis. The interesting point made in this article is that these rising rates of ADHD diagnosis are not necessarily due to the disease becoming more common, but rather that doctors are more ready to make the diagnosis than they were a few years ago.

A diagnosis of ADHD is often required to prescribe medication used to treat ADHD such as Ritalin and Adderall, stimulant medications that can boost concentration and school performance. However, Ritalin and Adderall are also associated with significant side effects such as substance abuse, anxiety, and increased cardiovascular disease risk.

I believe that there are many factors contributing to the rising rates of ADHD diagnosis in children, including:

  • Increased pressure to perform well in school
  • Depression and anxiety aggravated by social isolation
  • Lack of physical exercise and exposure to the natural world
  • Increase in consumption of neuro-excitatory foods and poor general nutrition

Addressing some of these core factors first, before jumping to a prescription of Ritalin or Adderall can not only prevent a misdiagnose of ADHD, but can also protect children from the harmful side effects of these medications and help them correct imbalances in their system rather than masking them.

A few general recommendations I make to parents of children who have difficulty concentrating in class are:

  • Make sure they eat breakfast to help stabilize blood sugar
  • Limit “screen” time from television, iPads, computers etc
  • Encourage outdoor, team-building activities with peers
  • Eliminate sugars and artificial sweeteners from the diet
  • Take the time to understand the origin of their child’s symptoms and consider counseling, neurofeedback, and nutrient therapy to address these symptoms before using prescription medication.