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Childhood lead exposure linked to lower IQ in adults across socioeconomic status

Childhood lead exposure linked to lower IQ in adults across socioeconomic status

The data showed that subjects who had low blood levels in their childhood had an IQ as high as when they were children.

Reuben and colleagues examined data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a population-based representative cohort of children born in 1972-1973.

When the kids were 11 years old, researchers tested their blood for lead.

The mean blood-lead level of the children at age 11 was 10.99mcg per decilitre. People in the high lead-exposure group also saw their IQ scores decline from when they were children, the study found.

"The study results also provide support for the estimate that interventions since the 1970s to reduce the lead exposure of the USA population have raised the mean IQ in adults by as much as 4.5 points". Each person had their blood lead levels measured when they were 11 years old, and the researchers followed up with blood tests about decades later, when they were 38. The pattern held even after accounting for gender, the children's starting IQ, and their mother's IQ, with each substantial rise in blood lead levels associated with a 1.6 point drop in IQ by 38. The research suggests an association between early childhood lead exposure and a reduction in later life socioeconomic status and cognitive ability.

Childhood blood lead levels ranged from 4 to 31 micrograms/dl.

Leaded petrol was finally phased out completely in 1996, but only after oil companies fought efforts to have it banned. Such test is created to be a rough indicator of lead exposure in the months before the blood is drawn and tested.

Kids exposed to high levels of lead decades ago may now be approaching middle age with lower IQs and earning potential than they would have had otherwise, a new study suggests.

"Most did not have their lead exposures tested as children".

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Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that can accumulate in a child's bloodstream and settle in the bones, teeth and soft tissues. Children playing outside either inhaled lead-laden dust or swallowed small amounts of leaded soil, which remains in the body.

The study also compared changes in social standing using a measure from the New Zealand government that plots families on a 6-point scale.

Co-author Prof Avshalom Caspi, of Duke University, said wherever you started in life "lead is going to exert a downward pull".

Still, the findings were stark enough to prompt David C. Bellinger, a professor of environmental health at Harvard, to write in an accompanying JAMA editorial that much more needs to be done to eliminate lead exposures in every form.

"The reason we did this research is because the issue of lead toxicity has raised its ugly head again in the developing world and also in North America".

Author Aaron Reuben, a Duke PhD candidate, added the lower occupational status is "partially but significantly explained by the loss of IQ".

Children who were over 10 micrograms of lead attained occupations with socioeconomic status levels lower than those of their parents. "If you're above the historic level of concern (for lead exposure), you're doing worse on both". This research received support from U.S. National Institute on Aging grants R01AG032282, R01AG049789, R01AG048895, the U.K. Medical Research Council grant MR/P005918/1, the Economic and Social Research Council grant ES/M010309/1, and the Jacobs Foundation.

While lead exposure has always been linked to poor academic achievement, this study offers fresh evidence of how high blood lead levels in childhood could lead to lower socioeconomic status in adulthood, said David Bellinger, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston and author of an accompanying editorial.

This study was supported in part by grants from the US National Institute on Aging, as well as United Kingdom government grants.

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