Hyperactive children ‘need exercise, not drugs’
Scotland Sunday Herald | November 13, 2006
ALEADING child development expert has sparked fury among campaigners after claiming that children with attention deficit disorders could be prescribed exercise instead of drugs.
Professor Richard Bailey, who has worked with Unesco as an expert adviser for physical education and sport, argued that some youngsters diagnosed with the conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be suffering from a lack of exercise.
He also said that instead of handing out drugs such as Ritalin, regular physical activity could help reduce the severity of problems for some children.
His comments came last week at the launch of a new initiative in which hundreds of teachers in primary schools in Scotland will be trained as specialists in PE, in a move to improve the health of children.
Bailey, professor of pedagogy at Roehampton University, London, told the Sunday Herald that ADHD was a “misunderstood” condition, with little consensus among experts over the causes of it.
He said: “Physical activity is a normal, natural part of children’s lives and if we deprive them of that normal, natural experience we suffer consequences.
“I think in some cases it is the children who are having the basic need to move frustrated who are sometimes being identified as having attention deficit disorder.
“What they need is something much more fundamental than a drug. What they really need is further opportunities for physical activity.”
Bailey acknowledged that in some cases drugs such as Ritalin were necessary, but argued that other children diagnosed with hyperactivity would benefit from regular physical activity and games.
“Clearly there are some children who maybe do need a chemical interaction,” he said. “But for a lot of children I have worked with, the reality is that physical activity, movement, sport and things like that at least reduce the severity of the condition.”
However, Ruth Thomson, of Ecosse ADDers, a Falkirk-based ADHD support group, criticised his comments, saying that her own son participated in numerous sports yet “it doesn’t do anything for his ADHD”.
“I think the majority of people assume ADHD is all about kids who are just stuck in front of a TV, but it is not,” she said.
“ADHD is a complex development problem, it is a complex neurobiological problem where the symptoms are more than just hyper activity.
“Unless you have actually looked at the diagnostic criteria, it would be difficult to say exercise alone could help.”
Last month it was revealed that the number of children being prescribed drugs to combat ADHD in Scotland had risen by 16% in a year. Doctors issued more than 50,000 prescriptions for medicines such as Ritalin, Dexedrine and Strattera in 2005.
Advocates of such drugs say they have a vital role in helping with hyperactivity disorders and argue that the condition is being underdiagnosed. But some campaigners claim children are being given a “chemical cosh” unnecessarily and have raised concerns about the long-term effects of the medication.
Eileen Keay, who runs an ADHD support group in Perthshire, agreed there was differing opinions on the causes of the condition and said she supported any suggestions for possible treatments.
She said: “It depends what study you follow. For every study that comes out saying it is a chemical neurological imbalance of the brain, there will be others saying it is lack of exercise or that it is diet.
“Many of these suggestions will work for some, but not for others. You are literally looking at each individual child and you can’t lump them together and say this is what is working.”
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