U.S health officials have recommended behavior modification therapy over drugs for treating children between 2 and 4 years old with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In a report published in Morbidity and Mortality Week Report on May 3, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that parents of young children with ADHD should try behavior therapy first before resorting to medication.

The recommendation is raised over findings that 75 percent of young children with ADHD are given drugs and only about half receive psychological services, which includes behavior therapy.

"[O]nly about 54% of the young children in Medicaid and 45% of the children with employer-sponsored insurance (2011) annually received psychological services (including parent training in behavior therapy)," the CDC report reads.

Although medication such as Ritalin can help kids with ADHD, this treatment is associated with side effects such as suppressed appetite, sleep problems, and disrupted growth.

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued guidelines that recommend behavior therapy as the first-line treatment for young children diagnosed with ADHD.

Despite AAP's recommendation, however, the percentage of children with ADHD who receive psychological services for their condition has not increased in recent years.

The percentage even slightly dropped among children with private insurance from 44 percent to 42 percent within a three-year period from 2011 to 2014.

What makes behavior therapy better than medication is that it can be as effective as medicine sans the unwanted side effects.

It involves a therapist helping parents acquire parenting skills that can improve their children's behavior. Parents also learn how to encourage positive behavior while discouraging unwanted ones, and improve the way they communicate with their children.

Although this form of therapy requires more time, effort and resources compared with treatment using medications, studies suggest that its effect is longer lasting than those of ADHD drugs.

CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat said that while giving ADHD medication may be appropriate at times, it is crucial that doctors discuss behavior therapy with parents as first step in treating children with ADHD.

"Parents aren't the cause of their child's ADHD, but they can play an important role in treatment," Schuchat said.

Figures from the CDC show that in 2011, about 6.4 million children between 4 and 17 years old were diagnosed with ADHD. Children with the condition are often hyperactive. They may not be able to control their impulses and have difficulty paying attention.

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