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ADHD in Children Health Center

1/3 ADHD Cases Linked to Lead, Smoking

Study Raises Questions About Acceptable Levels of Environmental Lead Exposure
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ADHD Numbers May Be Even Higher continued...

The researchers also found that an additional 4% of the children had parent-reported ADHD but were not on medication. But they were not included in the researchers' analysis because parent reports are considered an imprecise measure of ADHD.

"Half of the children who were labeled as ADHD were excluded because they were never treated with medication," Adesman says. "That means that the estimated number of ADHD cases attributable to prenatal smoking and lead exposure may be even higher. I don't know that the numbers would necessarily be double, but they would be substantially higher."

Lanphear found that children born to women who smoked during pregnancypregnancy have a 2.5-fold higher risk of ADHD than children born to nonsmoking women. He also found that children with blood levels of 2 micrograms per deciliter to 5 micrograms per deciliter -- which is only one-fifth to one-half of the current acceptable level -- were four times as likely to have ADHD. The higher the lead level, the higher the risk of ADHD, the researchers found.

Previous studies have shown a strong link between maternal smoking and ADHD. "But nobody has previously been able to test whether lead exposure per se is associated with a diagnosis of ADHD," Lanphear says.

Lead exposure in early childhood is known to affect brain development. Previous research has linked lead exposure during early childhood to a lower IQ. However, these studies have not shown that lead exposure is linked to behavioral issues, such as those characteristic of ADHD.

Get the Lead Out

Because mounting evidence shows that blood lead levels below 10 micrograms per deciliter are harmful to children, the government should consider lowering its acceptable threshold to at least 5 micrograms per deciliter, Lanphear says.

Since it's difficult to control the amount of lead in the environment, however, reducing its effects on children is mostly a societal responsibility, Lanphear says. "This should force us to be much more aggressive in eliminating lead from consumer products."

That said, there are steps parents can take to reduce young children's exposure to lead in the home, Lanphear adds. Commercially available home test kits, available for about $10 each, can show if a home contains hazardous levels of lead.

Lead abatement can be a costly proposition. Lanphear's team is currently conducting a study of 400 children in which families are randomly assigned to receive up to $10,000 worth of home lead abatement. "We're hoping this will lead to lower blood levels of lead in children," he says.

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