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(Corrects age range to 30-34 in para 7, 12-16 and 17-19 in para 8, based on notice from study author that erroneous numbers appearing in the journal will be corrected)
By Carolyn Crist
(Reuters Health) - Adolescents who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are much more likely than peers without the condition to become teenaged parents, according to a large Danish study.
In the 12-15 age group in particular, girls with ADHD were three and a half times more likely and boys were almost two and a half times more likely to become parents in their teen years.
“We were expecting to find an increased risk, but not of this magnitude,” said lead study author Dr. Soren Dinesen Ostergaard, of Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects about 5 percent of children and adolescents, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Recent studies have linked the inattentive and impulsive symptoms of the disorder with risky sexual behavior, but it was unclear if that also translates into higher rates of teen pregnancies and parenthood.
Past research has associated teenage parenthood with poor outcomes for both parents and children, including poverty, unemployment, increased health risks and behavioral problems, Ostergaard’s team writes in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
“Our findings indicate that increasing the level of sexual education in children and adolescents with ADHD could be beneficial,” Ostergaard told Reuters Health by email. “That should be tested in future studies.”
The researchers looked at data for 2,698,052 people born between 1960 and 2001 in Denmark, including 27,479 with a diagnosis of ADHD. They analyzed the likelihood of becoming a parent during the age intervals 12-16, 17-19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39 and over 40.
Overall, teens with ADHD are at least twice as likely as counterparts without the condition to become parents at ages 12-16 and 17-19, and they are likely to have a larger total number of children by age 25, the researchers found .
“It is well established that becoming a teenage parent, irrespective of your mental health status, is burdensome for both parents and children,” Ostergaard said. “It is also well known that parenting is often difficult for individuals with ADHD.”
He and his coauthors suggest creating new sexual education and contraceptive counseling programs tailored for adolescents with ADHD.
Before then, researchers should understand the reasons why ADHD is associated with teenage pregnancy, noted Andrea Chronis-Tuscano of the University of Maryland at College Park who wasn’t involved in the study.
Her own research centers on factors that influence risk for undesirable outcomes among children and young people with ADHD, such as risky sexual behavior among college students.
These factors can provide clues about how to intervene, she told Reuters Health. “In this case, maybe we could work on enhancing relationships with parents to prevent negative outcomes, rather than just teaching a safe sex program, which doesn’t address the impulsive nature of ADHD.”
Other factors to consider in future studies include individual beliefs and attitudes, as well as family factors such as education level and romantic relationships, said Dustin Sarver of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, who wasn’t involved in the new study.
The Danish study establishes that the association between ADHD and teenage parenthood exists, and now researchers must understand the “why” and “how,” Sarver said.
“The big step right now is awareness. Teenagers aren’t going to shy away from sex, and impulsivity only magnifies the potential problem,” he told Reuters Health. “I’ve found that parents are surprised to learn their children, especially girls, are at a higher risk, but they’re glad to have the issue raised so they can think ahead about how to address it.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2qgYlIs Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, online May 11, 2017.