New research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia indicates low lead levels, even at concentrations lower than previously defined by the Centers for Disease Control as level of concern, are associated with increased child emotional and behavior problems, according to a UPenn news release.
Previous studies have found frequent lead exposure can lower childrens IQ and cause increased aggressiveness and bullying. The new study, published in the August issue of JAMA Pediatrics, shows that even low lead levels in children also are associated with internalizing behavior problems.
Researchers, led by Jianghong Liu, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, found that blood lead concentrations, even at a mean concentration of 6.4 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), were associated with increased risk of behavioral problems in preschool children in China.
We believe that continued monitoring of blood lead concentrations is necessary and that nurses should recommend screening for behavioral problems for children with lead exposure whose blood lead concentration is above 5 μg/dL, Liu said in the release. According to the CDC, approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 have blood lead levels above 5 µg/dL.
In the study, blood lead concentrations were tested once for each of 1,341 children in China at ages 3, 4 and 5 years. The mean blood lead concentration was 6.4 µg/dL. Children’s behavioral problems were assessed in their last month of preschool at age 6. Results showed that a 1 µg/dL increase in blood lead concentration resulted in increased emotional reactivity, anxiety/depression and pervasive developmental problems such as speech problems and avoidance of eye contact. Results also showed while boys had higher blood lead concentrations than girls, the association with behavioral problems was stronger in girls than in boys, according to the release.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Healths National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania Center for Excellence in Environmental Toxicology.