Dr. Katz shares what women should know about Ritalin and the increase in ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
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There are times when Ritalin and other medications for ADD/ADHD are truly needed. There are kids of course who have real pathology there and the medication can be quite helpful, but it has long struck me as odd at best, inexplicable at worst, that we would be having more and more kids with ADD and ADHD. If this a genetic condition, why would those genes be spreading? And if it’s an environmental condition, we ought to identify the factor in the environment. So, it just seemed odd to me. What I think is going on is that as we take kids further and further from an environment that lets them be kids and lets them be healthy, normal childhood behavior starts to look like pathology. I say this as the father of five children. I have four daughters and a son and my son is a unique case because he is a boy, and I have a good personal experience with the fact that the boys are little more hyperkinetic. My son Gabriel could easily have been diagnosed as hyperactive, attention deficit because he was rambunctious. I have long made the case that rambunctiousness in children needs to be treated with recess, not Ritalin. I am pleased to say that in response to that thinking, we developed a school-based physical activity program called “ABC for Fitness”–it stands for Activity Bursts in the Classroom. Gabriel actually was the inspiration for it, and it’s a detailed instructional program for teachers that shows them how they can provide brief bursts of structured aerobic activity in the classroom throughout the day whenever the kids need it, and the program is available in its entirety for free. There are links to it from my website. And we have evaluated that program in 13 elementary schools in the Midwest over a three-year period and we found significant improvements in fitness, stable performance on standardized tests, no increase in disruptions in the classrooms even with these frequent activity bursts and perhaps most exciting, a 33% reduction in the use of medication for ADHD. So there will always be some kids who need the drugs. I think we are over-medicating. I think we are over-diagnosing and I think we are not giving kids the opportunity to thrive in an environment where kids get to do what kids need to do. Sound mind, sound body; kids have got to get up and run around from time to time. If it’s intermittent throughout the day, okay, fine. If they can have that plus phys ed and recess, so much the better. They will be better learners. They certainly will be less prone to medication treating what recess could adequately address. And, you know, again that was my diatribe before I had the proof. We now have the proof.