A high-profile child psychologist accused drugs companies and other scientists on Thursday of falsely claiming attention deficit disorder (ADHD) was a genetic disease in order to promote the controversial drug Ritalin.
Clinical child psychologist Dr Oliver James tore into a Cardiff University study on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, accusing the university's child and adolescent psychiatry professor Anita Tharpar of "putting a massive spin" on the research which claimed to prove that ADHD was a genetic disorder.
The study said it found that children with ADHD were more likely to have a difference in the brain caused by small pieces of DNA that were duplicated or deleted. But of the 336 children with ADHD in the study's sample, just 16 per cent of them had such DNA.
Dr James said the study in fact disproved any link between genes and ADHD because almost nine out of 10 of the children did not have the gene supposed to cause it.
While the research sought to downplay the effects of poor diets, deprivation and other environmental pressures such as parental stress, Dr James said: "Why are we even talking about this study? Hardly a month goes by without a study being published showing strong environmental factors."
He said it was in the interests of major drugs companies to promote the idea that genetic factors had a greater influence than environmental factors as this would signal the importance of medical solutions over social remedies, adding: "They want them to keep taking Ritalin."
The number of children prescribed the drug has soared over the past 15 years and it is known to have side effects such as an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, mood swings and sleeping problems.
Dr James added: "In fact ADHD is most likely a reflection of high levels of cortisol, the hormone we secrete in response to fear, and parental care largely determines child cortisol levels, so parents need to know for example that they are twice as likely to have a child with ADHD if they are stressed during pregnancy."
During a BBC News interview he insisted that mothers, in particular single mothers, must not be stigmatised and more support must be given to both parents and children who live in stressful conditions.
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