High lead exposure during early childhood may increase the risk of a child getting suspended or jailed during their school years, according to a recent study published online on the National Bureau of Economic Research website. However, a significant decrease in lead exposure during childhood may help stem the likelihood of children getting involved in crime as an adult, the study revealed.
As part of the research, a team of scientists at the Princeton University and the Brown University examined data on about 120,000 children born in Rhode Island. According to Princeton researcher Janet Currie, Rhode Island was an ideal research site due to its aggressive lead screening programs. Almost 75 percent of children in the state were screened at least once by the time they reached 18 months. The said rate was higher than the national average. The study participants had been screened on an average of three times by the time they reached six years old.
The researchers evaluated children born between 1990 and 2014. They also had access to the Rhode Island Department of Health blood lead level tests for preschool children, which were carried out between 1994 and 2014. The tests were then linked to school suspension records and juvenile detention records. In addition, the research team examined the children’s lead exposure by linking their data to the participants’ addresses. According to the experts, lead is likely to linger in soil due to its heavy weight. Naturally, a busier road will have higher lead deposits, the team noted.
Results of the extensive, data-linking study
The study showed that children younger than six years old who were exposed to high levels of lead had higher odds of being suspended or jailed as they grew up. Data also revealed that each one unit increase in blood lead levels may increase the risk of a child getting suspended from school by up to 9.3 percent. Among boys, each unit increase in lead exposure was linked to a 74 percent increased risk of being incarcerated. With very few juveniles and almost no girls getting incarcerated, lead’s effect on the probability of incarceration was deemed less accurate.
However, the study also showed that each decrease in lead exposure was tied to less antisocial behavior among children. This demonstrates that banning the heavy metal immensely contributed to a steady decline in crime rate over the past few decades. (Related: Lead Exposure Causes Violent Crime in Children.)
“Children who have been suspended are ten times more likely to be involved in criminal activity as adults. Our results support the hypothesis that reductions in blood lead levels may have been responsible for a significant part of the observed decrease in antisocial behavior among youths and young adults in recent decades,” Currie was quoted in saying in an article on the Science Daily website.