Early Intervention Improves Outcomes for Children Suffering From Lead Exposure: Study

Lead exposure has left more than half of all American children with detectable levels of lead in their blood.

The findings of a new study indicate early intervention efforts could counteract some of the learning and developmental challenges created by lead exposure during childhood.

Early intervention services helped children exposed to lead improve their math scores by 7% and English scores by 10% compared to children who did not receive intervention, according to researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Their findings were published March 7, in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers studied children born in New York City from 1994 to 1998, analyzing data from birth records, lead monitoring, early interventions, and educational data systems.

They selected study participants who had a blood lead level of 4 μg/dL or greater at any point before age 3 years old and later attended public school in New York City. Nearly 3,000 children were exposed to lead who received early intervention services before 36 months. These children were matched to 8,100 children who did not receive early intervention services.

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According to the findings, children who received early intervention services had 7% better math test scores and 10% better scores on English tests than those who did not receive intervention services. Children who received early intervention services were also 14% more likely to meet test-based standards in Math and 16% more likely to meet test-based standards in English.

“By leveraging existing public health data, this study found evidence that receipt of early intervention services may benefit the academic performance of children exposed to lead early in life,” the researchers concluded.

These associations became more pronounced when researchers compared children with higher blood lead levels to those with no lead exposure at all.

Research published last year indicated more than half of American children under the age of 6 have detectable levels of lead in their blood. Roughly 2% of children have levels that qualify as lead poisoning.

Common exposures are from lead-based paint used in pre-1978 housing, contaminated soil, industrial sources, common pollutants, and water from old lead pipes and fixtures, like those involved in the lead health problem in Flint Michigan in 2016.

Pediatricians warn, lead exposure at any level is unsafe for children and increases the risk they will suffer life-long health problems, such as diminished intellectual and academic abilities, neurobehavioral disorders, cardiovascular disease, low birth weight, brain damage, seizures, and even death.

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