By: Christian Haag
November 16 2022
Around 4 - 8 percent of Finnish children have ADHD. Finland's unique school structure may alleviate ADHD symptoms, but not cure them.
Johann Hari, the author of several books on mental health and a former journalist at The Independent and Huffington Post, has written on Twitter that next to no children in Finland have "severe attention problems." According to Hari, because Finnish children go to school from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., have few tests, and have 15 minutes of play for every 45 minutes of learning, only 0.1 percent of Finnish children have severe attention problems.
The claim that only 0.1 percent of children in Finland have severe attention problems is false. While Hari is opaque about how he defines "severe attention problems," around 4-8 percent of Finnish children between the age of 6 to 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD – according to data published by Helsinki University in 2016.
Furthermore, an article by Finnish academics published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health studied the use of ADHD medication by children and adolescents in Finland from 2008-2018. Using Finland's nationwide register on reimbursed prescriptions, the results show an increase in the use of ADHD medication over the 10-year period. In 2018, 4.42 percent of Finnish children aged 6-12 took ADHD medicine, and 4.21 percent of adolescents aged 13-17 had a prescription for ADHD medication. Consequently, a minimum of 4.42 percent and 4.2 percent of Finnish children and adolescents, respectively, have been diagnosed with ADHD, not 0.1 percent.
It could be argued that a pupil's upbringing or provision of support, such as the school structure Hari provides an example of, can alleviate ADHD symptoms. However, this does not reduce the amount of diagnosed cases, of which around 70-90 percent are hereditary. Smoking, the use of drugs and alcohol, stress and hypothyroidism, and complications during childbirth can increase the chance of developing ADHD. It is not "cured" by any specific school structure.
It is worth noting that statistics on ADHD are difficult to pin down because most data relies on verified diagnosed cases. Hidden statistics of undiagnosed cases and individuals unaware of ADHD can be vast, especially from a historical perspective from which there are no diagnosed cases. For example, research cited by the ADHD advocacy group ADDitude suggests that "ADHD affects a greater number of girls than typically and traditionally reported. ADHD may be missed in girls because of the way their symptoms tend to manifest compared to boys’, which may reflect a general bias in the diagnostic process."
Since Hari's data is wrong and correlation does not imply causation, we have marked this claim as false.