Just today, yet another story on medicating our children has hit my desk, this time from Business Week: ADHD Rates Soar in US, Study Says. Up 22% in a short span of just four years. The authors of the study estimate that a million additional children were diagnosed with ADHD between 2003 and 2007. This after we have seen an emphatic and steady increase in diagnoses like ADD, ADHD, autism, severe food allergies, and more in our kids over the last two decades. I have two questions: Why is this story in Business Week? And, is this working for you?
First, why Business Week? Do the math. This study found that somewhere between five and six million children in the US have ADHD, and that 2.7 million take medication for it. Ka-CHING! Says John Ranseen, psychiatry professor at University of Kentucky: ”Another very uncomfortable issue is the role of pharmacological companies in all of this since it is very much in their interest to increase the diagnosis and treatment of this condition. The last thing they have any interest in seeing is a drop in the diagnosis and treatment.” Indeed.
Next: Um, no, this isn’t working for me. I have no beef with pharmaceuticals when they do the job, make life better, and other strategies have failed. But when prescriptions for stimulant drugs like methylphenidate (aka Ritalin, Focalin, Concerta, and others) have become the fastest rising drug class for children under age five, something is awry. Do two year olds need this? What does it do to their brains over the long term? Meanwhile, chatter about better diagnosis is just that – idle conjecture that no one can prove and that may not matter anyway, if doctors are so willing to prescribe. It’s hard to believe that so dramatic a rise in this condition is simply due to greater societal ease with it, or a new willingness to let our kids be labeled more often.
We need strategies beyond the prescription pad for our children – not just because these tools may not always work well, may be dangerous, or have intolerable side effects. We need more tools because our children are much less well than they were in 1980, despite using more drugs of all kinds, on a regular basis. No matter how you slice it, US children are less healthy, more chronically ill, more diseased, and more disabled than ever. The CDC predicts their life spans will be shorter than those of my generation – a first in America’s history. This definitely doesn’t work for me as a parent, or a as licensed nutrition professional. It’s apparently not working for millions of kids either. That’s why I wrote this book.
US doctors get little training in non-pharmaceutical treatments, as physicians do in several other developed countries (see Chapter 6 of Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free for more on this piece). As a nutrition professional, this means I encounter kids in practice who are struggling under pharmaceutical strategies that are either unsuccessful, marginally successful, or too costly for side effects – usually because a physician has prescribed a drug for a treatable nutrition problem that he didn’t recognize in the first place. It’s clear to me in practice that our pediatricians have little to work with besides drugs. A few facts to illustrate:
- Americans spent nearly $300 billion on prescription medications in 2008 – and this was considered a down year by the pharmaceutical industry. While nutritional supplements are popular, the highest estimates of our spending on these as a nation is less than one-tenth of that spent on drugs.
- In that same year, anti-psychotic medications led the pack for overall sales.
- Children are prescribed more stimulant drugs than any other type of drug.
- Another popular drug class for infants, toddlers, and children is proton pump inhibitors – which may be addicting and can alter digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Conditions affecting more children than ever before – diabetes, Crohn’s disease, reflux or GERD, growth delays or obesity, asthma, severe food allergy, developmental disorders, and learning/mood disorders – not only may have treatable nutrition components, but may be most successfully treated with nutrition-focused strategies rather than drugs. Leveraging this piece can mean life changing turn-arounds for a child, something I have witnessed many times in practice.
That’s what Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free is about. There are other possibilities, they are evidence-based, your child may be able to feel and function better that he does now. Explore! And buy an extra copy for your pediatrician. If he doesn’t want it, you can always leave it in his waiting room.