Misleading Headlines #687

April 30, 2009 at 4:03 pm (Bad Science) (, , )

Ritalin improves a child’s academic performance, say scientists. Really? Ritalin is a “smart drug”? Maybe I should get some for my kid? Let’s read on. “Children taking controversial medicine for attention deficit disorder are more successful at school than their non-medicated peers, scientists say.” Excellent – sounds like just the ticket. But hang on – do these medicated children perform better than kids who don’t have ADHD in the first place?

Nearly 600 children with ADHD were followed for five years from the age of five in the first long-term study of its kind.

The youngsters taking Ritalin scored higher on academic tests and were three months ahead of their peers at reading and two months ahead in maths.

But both groups had lower scores on average than a separate group of children without ADHD. [My emphasis.]

Ah. The children in question have ADHD. Their scores are lower than those of children who do not have ADHD whether they (the children with ADHD, that is) are taking ritalin or not. It might seem rather obvious that the children whose scores improved when taking Ritalin would have a diagnosis of ADHD and that these results may not be applicable to the wider population. Perhaps because we all know what Ritalin is prescribed for.

On the other hand, if we were talking about fish oil pills it might not be quite as obvious. The research into fish oil pills for children with DCD or ADHD (even if it wasn’t positive) was “piggy-backed” by eager fish oil peddlers who wished to suggest that fish oil pills would make the typical child (rather than the child with DCD or ADHD) smarter. (See also badscience.net/category/equazen.)

1 Comment

  1. hammie said,

    I have coffee with someone who ws very keen on the idea of respiradol if her Autistic child doesn’t keep up in the classroom. We went to respiradol after the little girl in question kicked one of my teeth in. It means yearly bloods, EEGs and a risk of weight gain, but our family stays together.

    Not something to give your kid to help them with a spelling test!

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