Children Plus Pesticides Don't Mix, Lead to ADHD

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Commonly used pesticides known as organophosphates may be linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, according to a new study published in Pediatrics. This is the latest in numerous studies that suggest children plus pesticides used on fruits and vegetables is not a healthy mix.

The health dangers associated with pesticides on food is not a secret: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits the amount of pesticide residue on fruits, vegetables, and other foods because these toxins have been shown to cause serious health problems, including neurological disorders, developmental disorders, cancer, and obesity.

The Pesticide Action Network reports that 888 million pounds of pesticides are applied to crops in the United States each year, which equals nearly 3 pounds for each man, woman, and child in America. Each child in the United States consumes an average of five servings of pesticide residue in food and water each day.

In the new study, lead author Maryse Bouchard of the University of Montreal and her team from Harvard University examined urine samples from 1,139 children ages 8 to 15, as pesticides break down in the body into compounds that can be measured in urine. They also interviewed the children’s parents to identify which children had ADHD. About 150 children in the study demonstrated characteristics of ADHD or were taking medications to treat it.

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The researchers found pesticide compounds in 94 percent of the children. Those who had higher levels of the compounds had an increased chance of having ADHD. The study did not identify exactly how the children were exposed to the pesticides, as it could have been from eating foods treated with the toxins, from breathing it in the air, or swallowing it in drinking water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 4.5 million children ages 5 to 17 have ever been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2006, and that 3 to 7 percent of school-aged children suffer from ADHD. Some communities report an even higher estimate. The diagnosis of ADHD increased an average of 3 percent per year from 1997 to 2006.

Bouchard noted that people can limit their exposure to dangerous pesticides by eating organic fruits and vegetables. A study from 2008 conducted at Emory University found that children who switched from conventionally grown to organically grown fruits and vegetables showed a dramatic decline in pesticide compounds in their urine, until it was nearly or wholly undetectable.

Bouchard explained that pesticide exposure is “practically ubiquitous. We’re all exposed.” Virginia Rauh of Columbia University, who has studied prenatal pesticide exposure and who was not involved with the study, said more research is necessary to confirm the link between pesticide exposure and ADHD. In the meantime, it would likely be best for both children and adults to avoid exposure to pesticides whenever possible. The Pesticide Action Network provides information on pesticides on food at “What’s On My Food?” and through a free app.

SOURCES:
Bouchard MF et al. Attention-deficit/hyperacticity disorder and urinary metabolites of organophosphate pesticides. Pediatrics 2010 May
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Pesticide Action Network

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