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Am J Public Health. 1992 Oct;82(10):1356-60.

Lead exposure and child behavior.

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Children's Medical Services, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Baltimore, Md.



Unlike cognitive impairments associated with lead exposure, lead-associated child behavior problems have been difficult to specify, particularly in young children.


The Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale were used as the outcome and confounding variables, respectively, of major interest. These measures were examined with respect to blood lead levels of 201 African-American children aged 2 through 5 years.


In comparison with the low exposed group, the high exposed group (two consecutive blood lead levels greater than or equal to 15 micrograms/dL) had a significantly higher mean CBCL Total Behavior Problem Score (TBPS) and Internalizing and Externalizing scores; when other factors, including maternal depressive symptomatology, were controlled for, regression procedures indicated a .18-point TBPS increase for each unit increase in lead and a 5.1-point higher TBPS in the high exposed group; children in this group were 2.7 times more likely to have a TBPS in the clinical range.


Through its use of a standardized parent-report measure of behavior and its consideration of maternal morale in multiple linear and logistic regression procedures, this study provides further evidence of lead's detrimental effect on child behavior at levels typical of present-day exposure.

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