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May 18, 2022

Proposed routine screening for anxiety in children may drive increase in cases

The proposed USPSTF guidelines recommend screening for anxiety in children and adolescents ages 8 to 18 years of age.

By GlobalData Healthcare

Mental health disorders among young people are increasing, and have been on the rise even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 12, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) proposed new guidelines for the screening of anxiety in children and adolescents. Anxiety disorders are characterized by feelings of intense fear or worry that occur for more than six months and interfere with daily activities. If the proposed guidelines are accepted, GlobalData epidemiologists expect that the new screening criteria will likely drive an increase in the lifetime total prevalent cases of anxiety disorders in the US.

The proposed USPSTF guidelines recommend screening for anxiety in children and adolescents ages 8 to 18 years of age. This draft proposal follows an increasing body of evidence that suggests a rising risk of anxiety in younger individuals. According to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics by Lebrun-Harris and colleagues, there was a significant increase in anxiety problems observed in children ages 17 years and younger. Data was obtained from the US National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), a nationally representative survey of 174, 551 children ages 17 years and younger. Study findings showed anxiety problems rising by nearly 30%—from 7.1% in 2016 to 9.2% in 2020. Despite this concerning increase, the authors found little improvement in mental health treatment or counseling over the study period, with only 80% of children receiving any services related to mental health care who needed it.

In the US, GlobalData epidemiologists forecast the number of lifetime total prevalent cases of anxiety disorders in ages 18 years and older to be approximately 46.97 million cases in 2022 and expect this to grow to about 48.74 million cases by 2028. However, if these new guidelines take effect, the number of lifetime total prevalent cases will likely surpass the current forecast estimates through 2028 as a result of increased case identification in younger age groups. The expanded screening criteria will help capture more of the potentially at-risk population by initiating screening sooner, resulting in earlier disease detection and improved patient outcomes. The public comment period on the draft recommendation closed May 18, and the guidelines are currently in review prior to the release of the final recommendation. GlobalData epidemiologists suggest that a further analysis of screening data should occur over the next five years to more clearly assess, characterize, and quantify the impact of these new guidelines should they be adopted.

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