Lead linked to bad behaviour?

Scientists split on effects of lead on children's behaviour


Link Between Childhood Lead Exposure & Criminal Behavior Weak, says Study

Childhood lead exposure is not consistently associated with criminal behavior later in life, a new study finds.

The report, published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, should ease the minds of parents in areas where children have been exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water.

After adjusting for socioeconomic status, a team of researchers found a weak connection between childhood lead exposure and subsequent criminal offenses.

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Lead Poisoning

If you have young kids, it's important to find out whether there's any risk that they might be exposed to lead, especially if you live in an older home. Many toys and other products from outside the United States have also been found to contain lead.

Long-term exposure to lead, a naturally occurring metal used in everything from construction materials to batteries, can cause serious health problems, particularly in young kids. Lead is toxic to everyone, but unborn babies and young children are at greatest risk for health problems from lead poisoning — their smaller, growing bodies make them more susceptible to absorbing and retaining lead.

Each year in the United States, 310,000 1- to 5-year-old kids are found to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms, from headaches and stomach pain to behavioral problems and anemia (not enough healthy red blood cells). Lead also can affect a child's developing brain.

The good news is that you can protect your family from lead poisoning. Talk to your doctor about potential lead sources in your house or anywhere your kids spend long periods of time, especially if they're younger than 3 years old.

And it's important for kids at risk of exposure to undergo blood tests for lead — many people with lead poisoning show only mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all.

Why Is Lead Harmful? Whether it's inhaled, swallowed, or, more rarely, absorbed through the skin (just by touching a product that contains lead), lead can act as a poison. Exposure to high lead levels in a short period of time is called acute toxicity. Exposure to small amounts of lead over a long period of time is called chronic toxicity.

Lead is particularly dangerous because once it gets into a person's system, it is distributed throughout the body just like helpful minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc. And lead can cause harm wherever it lands in the body. In the bloodstream, for example, it can damage red blood cells and limit their ability to carry oxygen to the organs and tissues that need it, thus causing anemia.

Most lead ends up in the bone, where it causes even more problems. Lead can interfere with the production of blood cells and the absorption of calcium that bones need to grow healthy and strong. Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, muscle contraction, and nerve and blood vessel function.

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Even A Bit of Lead Is Bad for Kids' Psychological Development

Lead is hiding all around us — in house paint, in car exhaust, even in water pipes and food cans. As a result, lead is also in our blood and bones. In the 1970s, experts thought that children who had less than 30 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (30mcg/dl) were safe from its effects. However, a research team headed by pediatrician Herbert Needleman, MD, and later joined by psychologist David Bellinger, PhD, exposed how dangerous even a little lead exposure can be. Needleman and his team first tested how much lead was in the baby teeth of 2,335 first and second graders with no symptoms of lead poisoning. The researchers then had the 58 children with the highest lead levels and the 100 with the lowest lead levels complete a series of tests, and had teachers rate the children's behavior. The researchers found that the high-lead children had lower IQs, less verbal competence, worse speech processing, and worse attention than did the low-lead children.

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