The widespread perception among many Americans is that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is overdiagnosed. This was fueled by a regular update to a dataset the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases every few years called the National Survey of Children’s Health. The recent data showed — not surprising to anyone — that diagnoses of ADHD in children 2-17 years old increased since the last survey.
This release caused the New York Times to blare in a headline that 1 in 5 of all boys in the U.S. had ADHD. (Which turned out not to be true, but you wouldn’t know it unless you scrolled all the way to the bottom of the article and read the “correction.”)
In fact, if you looked at all the data the CDC released, you’d notice similar increases across the board of childhood diagnoses — increases in the rate of diagnosis of autism (up 37 percent from 2007), depression (up three percent from 2007), and anxiety (up 11 percent from 2007). But for some reason, the New York Times only covered the changes to ADHD diagnosis rates.
So is there an actual overdiagnosis in ADHD? Or is it more complicated than that? Let’s find out.