Why is the rate of ADHD so much higher in U.S. than in France?

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Over the past year, I had three different discussions with professionals about ADHD. The first two were with child nutritionists and the other was a child psychologist/therapist. Now, my child does not show signs of ADHD. However, today’s rate of children with ADHD is high enough for some concern. The CDC reports that in 2011, 11% of U.S. children between the ages 4-17 were diagnosed. In addition, boys posed double the risk. Oddly enough, the rate of childhood ADHD in France was only .5%. That’s a huge difference! Why is the rate so much higher in the U.S.?

Dr. Marilyn Wedge provides some insight in her Psychology Today article  “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD.” She highlights the following:

  • Diagnosis and treatment is completely different between the two countries. Wedge states, “In the U.S., child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological—psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.” So yes, one could argue that rates vary because children in the U.S. might be over-diagnosed. However, this poses another threat. Over medication for holistically treatable issues can lead to drug dependence and damaging effects on health.

  • At the same time, differences in diagnosis cannot dictate the differences in child behavior between the two countries. Wedge states, “French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts” due to differences in child-rearing. The child nutritionist I met a year ago was French and said the exact same thing. I have also come across mothers from parts of Africa who mention babies do not cry in their country (wtf…I know) due to the way they mother. Parenting is different across the globe, and it seems that the result is children who behave differently.

  • There is more structure to French parenting. The article mentions, “From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it.”

  • French children eat better and healthier.  From artificial food coloring to GMO foods, the U.S. has far less regulations than our European counterparts. In addition, the French child nutritionist I met would not stop talking about how well French children eat in comparison to most American children. They do not snack all throughout the day but have structured meals, eat all their vegetables, and don’t complain about food. The child psychologist I spoke to mentioned all the flavors packed into snacks like Doritos and how they cause children to develop a type of food ADD. Salty, flavor packed snacks make vegetables that have only 1 flavor taste disgusting.

From the numerous parenting lectures, books, blogs, videos, and articles I’ve read or watched, I developed a set of guidelines for my home. The following is structure I’ve set for my family, written to my 16-month old son:

  • There will be no screen time until you establish a strong sense of self. I know everywhere we go, there are ipads, phones, and tvs. However, I want you to notice the curves of a tree or the way the breeze hits leaves. I love it when you join our conversation at dinner with your limited words. I want you to be able to think for yourself and establish a strong sense of who you are. You are unique. You cannot be simply categorized and marketed to. You are a complex being and I want your inner self to thrive. When you’re old enough to discern for yourself what you should and shouldn’t absorb from media, then you can get screen time.

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      • I’m the pilot. A child psychologist mentioned to me that if I don’t help direct you and tell you what to do, especially in your toddler years, it can stress you unnecessarily. She mentioned if I, as a parent, go to you to ask you what you want to eat or do, it’s like a pilot asking a passenger how and where to fly. So I won’t ask you what you want to eat, or what you want to do. I will tell you what we will eat, and what activity we will do. When you want something, I will first acknowledge your feelings and sympathize. Then, I will help direct you.
      • I will provide you with nutritious meals and you will eat what you are given. The food you eat affects your body and mind. If you don’t want to eat, that’s your decision. I will save the same meal for later.


  • Your snacks will be given at snack time.
  • We treat each other with respect and I will save adult conversations for adult time. I will listen to you when you speak.

  • I will give you a space for unstructured play and discovery so that you can have time to be curious and creative. As a result, you will not have bright, flashing, colorful toys that direct your play. You will have a handful of simple toys that allow you to be creative. Hey, when I was a child, my favorite thing was to play with bushes!

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Now I know I can’t control the future. My son may have a genetic predisposition to ADHD. However, I can do my best to help improve my son’s chance at a healthier, happier future. I run into some moms who read my blog and they get concerned about every little thing to the point where it stresses them out. My aim is not to stress parents out about the way they currently parent. I simply provide information that I’ve learned and pass it on in hopes that it can help improve the health and happiness of families. Everyone is different and no one person fits into the same mold. Take this info with a grain of salt and use only what works for you.

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Founder at Dymin Collective
Mindy Song is a mother of one, a video artist, and musician from Orange, CA. She is an advocate of social justice with interests in globalization, socio-economics, and the history of women’s rights in developing nations. By day she is a marketing specialist for a dental imaging company, milk pumper, and wannabe supermom. By night she is an asian fusion chef, art critic, and blogger.
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