Lead Linked to Child Behavioral Problems, Even at Lower Levels

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Even at lower levels, blood lead concentrations have been linked to an increased risk of behavioral problems in preschool children, including internalizing and pervasive developmental problems. The results of this study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, were published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Previous research has shown that blood lead levels at ≥10µg/dL in children are linked to externalizing behavior problems like aggressiveness and bullying, but this study sought to assess the association between blood lead concentrations and behavioral issues in a sample of Chinese preschool children with a mean blood lead concentration of <10µg/dL. Blood lead concentrations were measured in 1,341 children 3–5 years of age from 4 preschools in Jintan, Jiangsu province of China. Chinese versions of the Child Behavior Checklist and Caregiver-Teacher Report Form evaluated behavioral problems in the children when they were 6 years of age. The mean blood lead concentration was 6.4µg/dL; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that parents of children with >5µg/dL blood lead concentration reduce sources of lead in their home and monitor their children's blood lead levels.

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Significant associations were seen between blood lead concentrations and increased scores for teach-reported behavioral problems; a 1µg/dL increase in the blood lead concentration resulted in a 0.322 (95% CI, 0.058–0.587), 0.253 (95% CI, 0.016–0.500), and 0.303 (95% CI, 0.046–0.560) increase of teacher-reported behavior scores on emotional reactivity, anxiety problems, and pervasive developmental problems, respectively (P<0.05), after adjusting for parental and child variables. Particularly for older girls, mean teacher-reported behavior scores increased with blood lead concentrations.

Monitoring of blood level concentrations with clinical assessments of mental behavior during regular pediatric visits may be necessary, the authors note.

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