Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, often lasting into adulthood. Though it is commonly treated with a “stimulant” medication, there have been concerns that such drugs could stunt a child’s growth. Now, a new study suggests this type of medication does not affect children’s final height in adulthood.

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The latest study reveals that stimulant medication taken by children treated for ADHD does not affect their final height in adulthood.

The longitudinal study is published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) journal Pediatrics.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 5% of children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But studies in the US indicate that this rate is higher. Recent surveys of parents have found that around 11% of children aged 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011, totaling 6.4 million.

Children with the disorder usually have difficulty paying attention, controlling impulsive behavior or are overly active. Though the underlying causes and risk factors for ADHD are not known, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that genetics may play a role.

Additionally, researchers are currently investigating other potential causes and risk factors, including brain injury, environmental exposures, alcohol and tobacco use in pregnancy, premature delivery and low birth rate.

Though it may seem counterproductive to give an overactive child a stimulant, the most commonly used medication for treating ADHD is a type of stimulant medication, which has a calming effect on children with the condition.

According to the CDC, between 70-80% of children with ADHD respond positively to such medications.

To investigate whether stimulant medications are associated with final adult height, the researchers examined 340 children with ADHD who were born between 1976-1982 and compared their final height in adulthood with a control group of 680 children who did not have the disorder.

Fast facts about ADHD in the US
  • The percentage of children diagnosed with ADHD increased from 7.8% in 2003 to 11% in 2011
  • Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD
  • The annual societal cost of illness for ADHD is estimated to be between $36-52 billion, in 2005 dollars.

After studying height and stimulant treatment information from medical records and an adult follow-up study, the team found that neither ADHD nor stimulant treatment was associated with final height in adulthood.

Additionally, they observed that boys with ADHD who were treated with stimulants for more than 3 months had a growth spurt later than those not treated with stimulants. However, there was no difference in the size of the growth spurt.

There was also no link between a longer period of treatment with stimulants and final adult height, say the researchers, who conclude:

“Our findings suggest that ADHD treatment with stimulant medication is not associated with differences in adult height or significant changes in growth.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggested treating people who have ADHD with stimulant medication could reduce their likelihood of taking up smoking.

Meanwhile, guidance published in Pediatrics in June suggested ways of preventing substance abuse in people with ADHD, given that children with this disorder are at greater risk of abusing alcohol, tobacco and other illicit substances.