Early exposure to lead linked with behaviour later in life
The Sector > Research > Exposure to lead early in life linked with higher risk of criminal behaviour

Exposure to lead early in life linked with higher risk of criminal behaviour

by Freya Lucas

August 07, 2023

Children who are exposed to lead either in utero or during childhood have an increased risk of engaging in criminal behavior in adulthood, new analysis by researchers at the George Washington University has found. 


While prior research has found an association between lead exposure and criminal behavior at the aggregated population level, this is the first review to bring together the existing data at the individual-level of exposure and effects.


Using an analysis of 17 studies from three countries the researchers say the data clearly demonstrates the need for all countries to implement policies to prevent lead exposure which can cause a variety of health problems, including irreversible damage to a child’s nervous system.


Despite the well-known dangers, a number of countries lack sufficient policies to protect children and adults from lead exposure. Exposure comes from many different sources, including pollutants from industrial waste, recycling batteries, paints with lead content, various food sources and household products, such as children’s toys, ceramics and cookware. 


Cookware, researchers said, is of special concern, such as pottery from Asia, aluminum cookware from Africa and artisanal pottery from Mesoamerica is not certified to be lead free.


The review identified a wide range of diverse outcomes between exposure to lead at multiple stages of development and later delinquent, criminal, and antisocial behavior. Populations at higher risk from lead exposure are those at the lowest socioeconomic strata. 


“There is no safe level of lead exposure for children, and countries should extend all efforts to protect children and pregnant persons from lead containments,” the researchers concluded. 


“The evidence in the systematic review supports a strong action by governments and society to act to protect those in most vulnerable conditions.”


Access the study in full here

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