April 6, 2015 — Children born to teenage parents have a higher risk of getting ADHD, a large study suggests.
The researchers looked at info on more than 50,000 people in Finland. They found that having one parent younger than 20 raised the risk for childhood ADHD by about 50%. Children born to two parents younger than 20 had an even higher risk.
The study was published online by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The researchers took into account a number of things, including the parents’ psychiatric history, the mother’s social and economic status, marital status, whether or not the mother smoked while pregnant, number of previous births, and birth weight.
Interestingly, when mothers were older than 29, that was tied to a drop in ADHD risk among children.
“Young parents are a specific group, in that they have their own problems already. They often come from parents who were already young, and then they may also have some genetic risk for ADHD,” and that risk could be passed on to the child, says lead researcher Roshan Chudal, of the University of Turku, Finland.
Children of young parents may also be exposed to a large number of social and economic risk factors.
“I think it’s a mix of both,” Chudal says. “It’s both the inherited genetic risk and, among those who are susceptible, additional environmental factors. That’s what we believe triggers the development of ADHD.”
Senior author Andre Sourander, MD, PhD, also at the University of Turku, described the findings as “a public health issue which needs to be addressed.”
The team is developing programs to tackle the increased risk for behavioral problems and ADHD in the children of young parents, taking into account the stigma they face.
Yoko Nomura, PhD, an associate professor in Department of Psychology at Queens College in New York, says she believes the link is likely environmental.
“Being younger shouldn’t really get ‘under the skin.’ It’s about providing an environment which is sub-optimal for children and having an increased risk of ADHD,” she says.
Many questions raised by the study remain unanswered, she says.
“[The researchers] speculated that younger people may be more impulsive or more stressed, more this, more that. But we don’t know, and they are just mixing all these risks into one bag.”