Lower ADHD Rates Tied to Living in Higher Elevations

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As altitude increases, rates of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) significantly decline, according to a study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

The researchers hypothesize that the lower ADHD rate could be linked to increased levels of dopamine produced in response to hypobaric hypoxia, a condition that occurs when people breathe air with less oxygen. Low dopamine levels have been associated with ADHD, so increasing these dopamine levels could be reducing the risk of developing the disorder.

The study included data from two national health surveys and information on average state elevations from NASA. The 2007 National Survey on Children’s Health included data from 91,642 households that reported 73,123 children aged 4 to 17 years had been diagnosed with mild to severe ADHD. The 2010 National Survey of Children with Special Healthcare Needs included data from 372,689 households that reported 40,242 children aged 4 to 17 years had been diagnosed with full ADHD.

Using this information, the researchers correlated the number of children diagnosed with ADHD with the average elevations of the 48 contiguous United States and the District of Columbia.

North Carolina has an average elevation of 869 feet above sea level and had the highest percentage of children diagnosed with ADHD (15.6%). Delaware, Louisiana, and Alabama had similarly high percentages and all have average elevations of less than 1,000 feet above sea level.

Nevada has an average elevation of 5,515 feet above sea level and also had the lowest rate of children diagnosed with ADHD (5.6%).

Lower ADHD Rates Tied to Living in Higher Elevations
Lower ADHD Rates Tied to Living in Higher Elevations

Recent research has linked the thin air of higher elevations to increased rates of depression and suicide. But a new study shows there's also good news from up in the aspens and pines: The prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) decreases substantially as altitude increases.

In Utah, for example, an analysis of information from two national health surveys correlated with the average state elevation of 6,100 feet showed that the rate of diagnosed ADHD cases is about 50% of states at sea level. In Salt Lake City, whose elevation is about 4,300 feet, diagnosed ADHD prevalence is approximately 38% less than at sea level.

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