No link between childhood lead levels, later criminality

December 27, 2017

(HealthDay)— Exposure to higher levels of lead during early childhood can affect neurological development—but does that mean affected kids are doomed to delinquency?

No, according to a new study that tracked the lives of hundreds of New Zealand children born in the early 1970s.

The researchers noted that New Zealanders are particularly appropriate to study regarding this issue because high exposure to lead has been observed among children of all levels of family income. That would help eliminate economic class as a mitigating factor.

In the end, the new research "failed to support" the notion that a child's risk for later criminal activity rises in tandem with their exposure to lead in the environment, according to the team led by Amber Beckley, of Duke University in Durham, N.C.

The investigators pointed out that prior studies that had suggested such a link were unable to account for poverty. In the United States, for example, kids from poorer households are more vulnerable to exposure to lead.

"It is most commonly found in lead-based paint used in old homes, particularly those built before 1978," said Dr. Sophia Jan, who directs pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "However, lead can be found in the water pipes of old homes, gasoline and many other environmental sources," she added.

And one physician who reviewed the New Zealand findings believes they still must be interpreted with caution.

The study's "greater value lies in its ability to remove socioeconomic class as a variable," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

But he said that, regardless of whether lead exposure in childhood is tied to criminal behavior later, "adverse neurological effects related to learning and memory have been clearly established."

For the new study, the researchers tracked outcomes for more than 550 New Zealanders born between 1972 and 1973.

Beckley's team first looked at blood lead level readings that had been taken when the study participants were just 11 years old. The team then looked at any history of criminal behavior nearly four decades later—by the time each individual had turned 38.

The researchers found no indication that those who had been exposed to high levels of lead at age 11 were more likely to have an adult criminal record or to have reported having engaged in recurring criminal activity and/or violent behavior.

This means that "previously detected associations between and criminal offending may be owing to the toxic effect of lead disproportionately affecting disadvantaged groups," the study authors concluded in the report.

The findings were published online Dec. 26 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Explore further: New Zealand children's exposure to lead linked to lower IQ

More information: Sophia Jan, M.D., director, general pediatrics, Cohen Children's Medical Center, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; Robert Glatter, M.D., emergency physician, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Dec. 26, 2017, JAMA Pediatrics, online

There's more about lead exposure and children at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Related Stories

New Zealand children's exposure to lead linked to lower IQ

March 28, 2017
Extremely high levels of lead in New Zealand cities in the 1970s and 1980s appear responsible for a loss of intelligence and occupational standing among today's adults.

Do violent communities foster violent kids?

November 6, 2017
Children and adolescents regularly confronted with violence in their community have a greater tendency to show antisocial behavior. This finding was reported by researchers from the University of Basel and the University ...

Report: Lead levels higher in Flint kids after water switch

June 24, 2016
Flint children under the age of 6 had significantly higher blood-lead levels after the city switched its water source in 2014 to save money, according to report released Friday by U.S. disease experts.

Decrease in lead exposure in early childhood significantly responsible for drop in crime rate

June 28, 2017
Exposure to lead in the preschool years significantly increases the chance that children will be suspended or incarcerated during their school careers, according to research at Princeton University and Brown University. Conversely, ...

Recommended for you

Digital media use linked to behavioral problems in kids

July 17, 2018
Are children who spend lots of time using digital devices prone to psychiatric problems? A team of USC scientists says yes in a new study that appears today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Childhood abuse linked to greater risk of endometriosis, study finds

July 17, 2018
Endometriosis, a painful condition that affects one in 10 reproductive-age women in the U.S., has been linked to childhood physical and sexual abuse, according to findings published today in the journal Human Reproduction.

Opioids given too easily to children: study

July 16, 2018
(HealthDay)—Many children are prescribed powerful opioid painkillers they don't really need, putting them and those around them at risk, a new study shows.

Self-control and obesity: Gender matters in children

July 16, 2018
A toddler's self-regulation—the ability to change behavior in different social situations—may predict whether he or she will be obese come kindergarten, but the connection appears to be much different for girls than for ...

Footwear habits influence child and adolescent motor skill development

July 11, 2018
New research finds that children and adolescents who spend most of their time barefoot develop motor skills differently from those who habitually wear shoes. Published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, this is the first study to ...

Parents who had severe trauma, stresses in childhood more likely to have kids with behavioral health problems

July 9, 2018
A new study finds that severe childhood trauma and stresses early in parents' lives are linked to higher rates of behavioral health problems in their own children.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.