(NEW YORK) — Twenty percent of high school-age boys and 11 percent of school-age children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, according to an analysis of data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The data, compiled and published by the New York Times, is raising eyebrows among medical professionals, many who are concerned the diagnosis and corresponding medications are overused in the U.S.
ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said he doubts the numbers are an accurate reflection of the state of our young people.
“The numbers that they come up with, nearly 20 percent of high school boys having this diagnosis, are really shocking and very surprising to me as a pediatrician. I would be very surprised if 1 in 5 high school boys truly has attention deficit disorder,” he said.
Definitive testing does not exist for ADHD, a disorder estimated to have affected between three and seven percent of children, the New York Times reports. Patients are only diagnosed after undergoing a subjective process that includes speaking extensively with professionals.
The report claims there has been a 16-percent increase since 2007 in children ages 4-17 who have received an ADHD diagnosis. In the past decade, diagnoses for children in that age group have grown by 53 percent. The New York Times reported that physicians have prescribed medications like Ritalin or Adderall for about two-thirds of those currently diagnosed.
Some experts welcome these findings as an indication that the disorder is now more widely accepted and recognized. Dr. Besser said the goal of many parents of children diagnosed with ADHD is to get medication to improve school performance.
“People perform better on tests when they’re taking a stimulant medication,” he said. “Children who have behavioral issues often behave better when they are on these medications. So rather than improving situations in schools, you will see many children end up on these stimulant medications.”
But these stimulants are strong and can lead to other problems, Besser warned. “[T]hey have side effects, and they can also be diverted into situations where there can be addiction and abuse,” he explained.
Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven, Conn., and professor at the Yale School of Medicine, told the Times that he believed the numbers were “astronomical.”
He told the newspaper, “Mild systems are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.”
And the numbers could continue to rise. The Times reports the American Psychological Association is set to change the definition of ADHD to open up opportunities for more people to receive the diagnosis and treatment.
The CDC findings were part of a larger study on children’s health issues, taken between February 2011 to June 2012. It involved phone interviews with more than 76,000 parents across the country.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Jackie Wattles, CNN