ADHD: Giving Europe Attention

Today, more than 11 percent of kids in the U.S. are diagnosed with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in comparison with the 1 to 2 percent that will be diagnosed in Europe. Of the children who receive this diagnosis, some scientist believe only 4% are actually born with the disordered while the majority acquire it through environmental and behavioral causes. As it is true that psychostimulants, which ramp up the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, do make kids feel more calm, focused, and alert, we may be missing what Europe already knows.

Those who Play Finnish First
If we want to have an impact on ADHD, we might want to learn something from the Finnish school model. In Finland, students and teachers take 15 minute breaks after every 45 minutes of instruction. During the breaks, students are free to play and socialize as they wish. As a result the students are more attentive and able to focus on the material. Unfortunately in many US schools, time for recess and creative pursuits has been cut dramatically in favor of more class room instruction. US kids are literally starving for play, which can cause hyperactivity misconstrued as ADHD. In fact the CDC found that physical activity improved academic performance including standardized test results. Studies have found that the best types of play are unstructured and child-driven as they help to develop the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for problem solving and self-control.

Euro What You Eat
About 70% of the American diet comes from processed foods, which surpasses any other country. Refined sugars and carbohydrates can lead to blood sugar regulation issues, which have negative effects on mood and cognition. This is only part of the problem. What is worse is that many additives in processed foods have been linked to ADHD. Amazingly, most of these ingredients are banned in Europe but still remain hidden in the American diet. Among the offenders is dye Blue 1 found in "nutritious" foods such as blueberry Nutrigrain bars. Another go-to kid food is packaged macaroni cheese. Ever wonder what gives it its orange color? It is thanks to Yellow#5 (Tartazine), which can cause deterioration of a cell's genetic material. One study demonstrated a marked increase in hyperactive behavior in both 3 year olds with and without ADHD after drinking a beverage with artificial food colors. The study went as far as to state that artificial coloring should be eliminated from the diet. Other additives to avoid are BHA/BHT used in frying at fast food chains, which has also been linked to cancer, fetal abnormalities and baldness.

The French Frame Work
In France, ADHD is considered a psycho-social condition requiring behavioral modifications and family counseling rather than a biochemical problem requiring medication. But the prime asset in France's anti-ADHD arsenal is parenting. French parents set firm limits with their children and are not afraid to say "no" or "non" to their demands. They believe consistently set limits help children feel safe and secure. Because of this French children learn self-control early in their lives. Unlike some American families, French parents are the ones running the show not the children. Furthermore, many studies have shown inconsistent discipline, lack of routine and home chaos to be positive predictors for ADHD.