Association of Lead-Exposure Risk and Family Income with Childhood Brain Outcomes

Posted on by Stephen Gee

Socioeconomic factors influence brain development and structure, but most studies have overlooked neurotoxic insults that impair development, such as lead exposure. Childhood lead exposure affects cognitive development at the lowest measurable concentrations, but little is known about its impact on brain development during childhood. We examined cross-sectional associations among brain structure, cognition, geocoded measures of the risk of lead exposure and sociodemographic characteristics in 9,712 9- and 10-year-old children. Here we show stronger negative associations of living in high-lead-risk census tracts in children from lower- versus higher-income families. With increasing risk of exposure, children from lower-income families exhibited lower cognitive test scores, smaller cortical volume and smaller cortical surface area. Reducing environmental insults associated with lead-exposure risk might confer greater benefit to children experiencing more environmental adversity, and further understanding of the factors associated with high lead-exposure risk will be critical for improving such outcomes in children.

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