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CDC Publishes First National Study on Use of Behavioral Therapy, Medication, and Dietary Supplements for ADHD in Children

Less than half of kids receive behavioral therapy

The first national study to look at behavioral therapy, medication, and dietary supplements to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children aged 4 to 17 years has shown that less than half of children with ADHD were receiving behavioral therapy in 2009–2010.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, published April 1 in the Journal of Pediatrics, provides a snapshot into how ADHD was treated just before the release of the 2011 clinical guidelines for treatment of the disorder from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

According to the study, among children 4 to 17 years of age, about 40% of children with ADHD were treated with medication alone; 10% received behavioral therapy alone; 30% were treated with both medication and behavioral therapy; and 10% received neither medication nor behavioral therapy. Overall, about 10% of children with ADHD took dietary supplements for the disorder.

The data show that 50% of preschoolers aged 4 to 5 years with ADHD received behavioral therapy and that about 50% were taking medication for ADHD. Almost 25% of preschoolers were treated with medication alone. Among children aged 6 to 17 years with ADHD, less than a third received both medication and behavioral therapy.

“We do not know what the long-term effects of psychotropic medication are on the developing brains and bodies of little kids. What we do know is that behavioral therapy is safe and can have long-term positive impacts on how a child with ADHD functions at home, in school, and with friends,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, PhD. “Because behavioral therapy is the safest ADHD treatment for children under the age of 6, it should be used first, before ADHD medication for those children.”

In 2011, the AAP released ADHD treatment guidelines recommending behavioral therapy alone for the treatment of preschoolers and combination therapies consisting of medication and behavioral therapy for children aged 6 to 17 years with ADHD.

The study shows significant state-to-state variability in the type of treatment used to treat ADHD in children 4 to 17 years of age. On average, states with higher behavioral therapy rates had lower medication treatment rates and vice versa. Rates of medication treatment among children with ADHD ranged from a low of 57% in California to a high of 88% in Michigan. Rates of behavioral therapy among children with ADHD ranged from a low of 33% in Tennessee to 61% in Hawaii.

The new analysis was based on parent-reported data from the 2009–2010 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs.

Source: CDC; April 1, 2015.

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