Racial Disparity Found in Diagnosing ADHD in Children

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Racial Disparity in Diagnosing ADHD in School ChildrenChildren diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often benefit from treatment and medication to increase their success in school and ease problems with social interactions and associated behavior issues.

However, the benefits of a diagnosis might not be fairly given. In a new study published by the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that minority children were significantly less likely than white children to be diagnosed with ADHD. There was also a racial disparity found in the treatment of neurobehavioral disorders, with lower medication use among minority kids than white kids.

In an interview for an article with HealthDay, the head researcher of the study, Paul Morgan, said that the findings suggest that, “there are children who are likely deserving of a diagnosis, but who aren’t receiving a diagnosis, which raises the question of a lack of treatment.”

The study included an analysis of data from more than 17,000 children enrolled in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, who were kindergarteners between 1998 and 1999. Researchers found that starting in kindergarten, until at least eighth grade, an ADHD diagnosis was 69% lower for black children, 50% lower for Hispanic children, and 46% lower for all other minority ethnicities, compared to white children.

In addition, medication use for 65% lower for black kids, 47% lower for Hispanic kids, and 51% lower for kids of other ethnicities, compared to white kids.

Regardless of race, boys were twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. Behavioral problems such as fighting and bullying also increased the rate of diagnosis.

The authors of the study wrote about the possible implications of their findings, which point to an inequity in helping kids succeed in school and life. Children with ADHD who aren’t diagnosed and treated miss out on help available to control their behavior and increase their learning potential. They recommended that awareness of the disparity needs to increase among health-care providers, school psychologists, and teachers. An effort to increase culturally sensitive monitoring should be employed to ensure that all children are appropriately screened, diagnosed, and treated for ADHD. They highlighted that minority children deserve the same attention and access to treatments and special education programs for ADHD.

It is not clear whether the differences indicate that minority children are being under-diagnosed or whether white children are being over-diagnosed.

“It does seem to be clear that there are some cultural differences at work, and also probably some differences in access to health care and access to health-care information,” according to pediatrician Dr. Tanya Froehlich, who was also interviewed by HealthDay.

In addition to drug intervention, ongoing research has suggested other beneficial treatments for ADHD, including exercise therapy and chiropractic care.


Morgan P, Staff J, et al. Racial and ethnic disparities in ADHD diagnosis from kindergarten to eighth grade. Pediatrics. Published online June 24, 2013. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-2390.

Goodman B. (2013, June 24). “Minority kids less likely to be diagnosed, treated for ADHD: study.” HealthDay. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/06/24/minority-kids-less-likely-to-be-diagnosed-treated-for-adhd-study.

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