Updated 14 June 2017

Half of ADHD from social factors

Nearly half of serious cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children are closely tied to social factors such as single parenting and poor maternal education.


Nearly half of serious cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children are closely tied to social factors such as single parenting and poor maternal education, reports a new study.

Genes can play an key role in the development of so-called ADHD, whose signature symptoms include poor concentration, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour.

Studies of identical twins separated at or near birth show that if one sibling is affected, there is a better-than-average chance the other will be as well.

And research published last month found that youngsters exposed to very high levels of organophosphate pesticide, used on many commercially grown US fruits and vegetables, were also at greater risk.

Studies into social factors

But to date few large-scale studies have tried to isolate the potential impact of social and family influences on ADHD.

To help fill that gap, researchers in Sweden sifted through data on 1.16 million school children and examined the health histories of nearly 8,000 Swedish-born kids, aged six to 19, who had taken ADHD medication.

"We tracked their record through other registers ... to determine a number of other factors," said lead author Anders Hjern, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The study, published this week in Acta Paediatrica, found that women who had only received very basic education were 130% more likely to have a child on ADHD medication than women with university degrees.

Single parents

Living with a single parent increased the chances of being on medication by more than 50%, while coming from a family on welfare upped the odds by 135%.

Boys were three times more likely to be on medication, but these social elements affected both sexes equally.

"Almost half of the cases could be explained by the socioeconomic factors included in our analysis, clearly demonstrating that these are potent predictors of ADHD-medication in Swedish school children," Hjern said.

Lack of time and money are more common in single-parent families, as are family conflict and a lack of social support, he said.

Further research is needed to explore the intersection of genetic and environmental factors to devise better prevention strategies, he added. - (Sapa, June 2010)


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Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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