TROUBLED YOUTH: Number of Problem Kids on the Rise
A study in the June issue of Pediatrics finds that the number of youths with behavioral and emotional problems is on the rise, the AP/Reuters/Washington Post reports. Researchers compared data from a 1979 survey of 30 Rochester, N.Y., pediatricians with a 1996 government study of 395 pediatricians across the country. Doctors reported the largest increase in the number of children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, which rose from 1.4% to 9.2%. The number of kids with emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety, also increased from almost zero to 3.6% (6/6). Overall, children are being diagnosed with psychosocial problems at more than twice the rate they were in 1979 (Simpson, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 6/6). According to lead author Kelly Kelleher of the University of Pittsburgh and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, differences in doctor training in detecting such problems did not affect the study's findings. In fact, the highest identification rates occurred in providers who were trained 20 or more years ago. Researchers attributed the changes to a rise in poor and single parent families. In 1979, 15% of child participants lived with one parent; that number rose to 22% in 1996 (AP/Reuters/Washington Post, 6/6). Dr. Stephen Restaino, a Norfolk, Va., pediatrician, said the rise of single-parent families has added stress to young people, including custody battles and changing living arrangements. "Children who are 4 to 12 do not tolerate stress in their lives very well," he explained (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 6/6).
All in the Brain?
In other research news, scientists claim that criminals' violent behavior can be directly linked to brain abnormalities, USA Today reports. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that 21 men suffering from antisocial personality disorder -- characterized by a lack of remorse, impulsive actions and violent behavior -- had prefrontal cortexes of the brain, the region associated with judgment, that were 11% smaller than normal. The study also compared 26 killers from "good" homes and 12 killers from "bad" homes, where poverty, abuse and criminal parents were common. When compared to nonviolent people, criminals from bad homes had normal brain function. Those from good homes, however, had a 14.2% reduced function in the region of the brain associated with reasoning and conscience. Robert Bilder of the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research said that the study "points out the limitations of only looking at one set of factors, psychological or biological, and ignoring the others." Critics warn, however, that brain imaging opens a complex issue for clinical debate. Antonio Damasio of Iowa College of Medicine said, "All this doesn't mean everyone with brain abnormalities will be violent. People can behave abominably because they want to, but people with abnormalities are more vulnerable" (Vergano, 6/6).