New research from Western Australia has found that the youngest children in a school class are twice as likely to have received medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as their older classmates.
Published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the research analysed data from 311 384 WA schoolchildren aged 6 to 10 years (born July 2003 – June 2008) or 11 to 15 years (born July 1998 – June 2003). A total of 5937 children (1.9%) received medication for ADHD; the proportion of boys receiving medication (2.9%) was higher than that of girls (0.8%).
The authors, led by Dr Martin Whitely from Curtin University, found that “among children aged 6–10 years, those born in June (the last month of the recommended school-year intake) were about twice as likely to have received ADHD medication as those born in the first intake month (the previous July)”.
“For children aged 11–15 years, the effect was less marked, but still significant.”
“Similar differences were found when comparing children born in the first 3 (or 6) months and the last 3 (or 6) months of the school year intake.”
The results were comparable with those of four international studies.
“Similar findings in North America indicated that developmental immaturity is mislabelled as a mental disorder and unnecessarily treated with stimulant medication,” the authors wrote.
“The prescribing rate for children in our study was 1.9%, comparable with that reported by a Taiwanese study (1.6%). The late birth date effects identified in WA and Taiwan were of similar strength to those in the three North American studies, where the reported prescribing rates for the periods analysed were at least twice as high (4.5%,1 5.8%,2 3.6%3).
“This indicates that even at relatively low rates of prescribing there are significant concerns about the validity of ADHD as a diagnosis.”
CONTACTS: Dr Martin Whitely 0417 944 459
John Curtin Institute of Public Policy
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