Could Exposure to Lead Early in Life Raise Odds for Criminality Later?

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 2, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Being exposed to lead while in the womb or during early childhood may increase a person’s chance of engaging in criminal behavior as an adult, a new review claims.

To arrive at this conclusion, the review authors evaluated 17 previous studies that used varying methods to test for lead exposure, including blood, bones and teeth. They also addressed the effects of exposure at different ages, including in the womb or early childhood, later childhood, and adolescence or adulthood.

The reviewed studies had a wide range of findings, including that, in some cases, no links were found between early childhood lead exposure and later delinquent behavior. One of the studies showed a link between exposure and antisocial behavior, but not arrests.

However, several studies did find links between early childhood exposure to lead and later arrests, including drug-related arrests.

Some of the studies were more robust than others, the investigators found, using a tool to evaluate each study for statistical bias.

The findings were published online Aug. 1 in PLOS Global Public Health.

Exposure to lead can cause kidney damage, cardiac issues, immune system dysfunction, reproductive problems and impaired neuro-developmental function in children, the study authors noted.

More evidence is needed to strengthen understanding, said the authors, who included Maria Jose Talayero Schettino of George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

Still, preventing lead exposure is important to safeguard public health, the authors explained in a journal news release.

“Policy action to prevent lead exposure is of utmost importance as our research shows an excess risk for criminal behavior in adulthood exists when an individual is exposed to lead in utero or during childhood. Preventing lead exposure is crucial to safeguard public health and promote a safer society for all,” the authors concluded.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the health impacts of lead exposure.

SOURCE: PLOS Global Public Health, news release, Aug. 1, 2023

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