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Environ Res. 2019 May;172:420-429. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.02.023. Epub 2019 Feb 16.

Global burden of intellectual disability resulting from dietary exposure to lead, 2015.

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Spoiled Hike LLC, Stanardsville, VA 22973, USA.
Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Sciensano, Brussels, Belgium; Department of Veterinary Public Health and Food Safety, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Merelbeke, Belgium. Electronic address:
Gibb Epidemiology Consulting LLC, 3033 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 700, Arlington, VA 22201, USA; George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, Washington, DC 20052, USA.
Exponent Inc., 1150 Connecticut Ave NW #1100, Washington, DC 20036, USA.


Lead is a ubiquitous dietary contaminant that occurs in food because of natural and anthropogenic sources and pathways of exposure. Lead adversely affects a number of tissues and organ systems and the severity of effect on each is dependent on the level and duration of exposure. The most sensitive and notable effects are those that occur on the nervous system. This is particularly the case in the exposure to the fetus, infant and child. Infants and children generally have higher lead exposures on a body weight basis. While lead exposure can come from many sources, a major source of exposure for at least some individuals comes from food. Estimates for the impact of dietary lead on IQ were developed from published total diet studies. While most of these were designed to characterize intake of chemical contaminants on a national basis, some sampled market baskets from a single city. To develop global estimates, default ranges were created for countries with no data which encompassed the values encountered elsewhere. Blood lead levels and IQ decrements were estimated using functions previously developed by the WHO Joint Expert Committee for Food Additives. Since both the exposure and dose response components were variable and uncertain, a two dimensional Monte-Carlo simulation was used to develop the estimates for the impact of dietary lead on IQ. In addition to estimating blood lead and IQ decrements attributable to dietary lead from those countries with published market basket data, simulations were also run for WHO regions that sampled in the variability dimension based on the population size of the individual countries in each region. Dietary exposure to lead occurs throughout the world. The global average IQ decrement attributable to dietary lead was 1.1. The total number of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) arising from those IQ decrements were estimated to be 5.2 million DALYs, with an uncertainty range of 0-31 million DALYs. Significant uncertainties regarding exposure and dose-response relationships, however, warrant continued investigation.


Diet; Disability-Adjusted Life Year; Foodborne burden of disease; Intellectual disability; Lead

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