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Understanding ADHD

ADHD or Attention Deficit/Hypersensitivity Disorder is a relatively new diagnosis that caught our attention in the middle to latter part of the twentieth century. People who were impulsive, hyperactive and had a hard time focusing were diagnosed with ADHD.

In the early history of ADHD, most thought that it was a problem among children and that they would grow out of it. However, about 4.4 percent of the adult population are ADHD. Among this group, 62 percent are males and 38 percent are females. Among non-adults, about 5 million children from ages 3-17 years old have been diagnosed with the disorder.

Is the incidence of ADHD increasing? Researchers think so. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors the occurrence of ADHD and one survey entitled, The National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), compared data from 2003 to 2007. The parent-reported data showed that there has been a 7.2 percent increase over the four-year period.

Why the increase? Based on the surveys, researchers are not too sure. However, here are a few suspects:

• Because ADHD has a more precise definition, researchers and health professionals are better able to identify ADHD.

• More children are exposed to compounds such as toxins and pesticides. These exposures may play a role in increasing ADHD.

• Researchers report that the umbilical cord that supplies much needed nutrients to the unborn baby, can carry pollutants, industrial chemicals, pesticides, residue from cigarettes and alcohol. The Environmental Work Group examined the umbilical cords of ten newborns born August and September of 2004. Within the sampled umbilical cord blood, “They found pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline and garbage.”2 Researchers also reported that 287 chemicals were detected in cord blood and of this number, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system. The outcome of this exposure has not been extensively studied.3

• Some researchers suggest that television watching for ages 1 and 3 may lead to attention problems at age 7.3 Another study conducted in 2010 suggests a connection between attention problems and television watching and video gaming among children, teens and young adults.4

• Artificial food colorings and certain foods such as milk, chocolate, wheat, corn, legumes and others may also trigger attention problems in some children.5

There are other possible causes of ADHD and there is no easy answer. However, if those with ADHD work alongside physicians, dietitians and other health professionals, perhaps the problem of ADHD may be lessened or perhaps resolved.

Pamela Williams writes from Southern California.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

is a dietitian in Southern California.

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