Association of low lead levels with behavioral problems and executive function deficits in schoolers from Montevideo, Uruguay

Gabriel Barg, Mónica Daleiro, Elena I. Queirolo, Julia Ravenscroft, Nelly Mañay, Fabiana Peregalli, Katarzyna Kordas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The negative effect of lead exposure on children’s intelligence is well-documented. Less is known about the impact of lead on the use of executive functions to self-regulate behavior. We measured blood lead level (BLL) in a sample of first grade children from Montevideo, Uruguay (n = 206, age 6.7 ± 0.5 years, 59.7% boys). Behavior was assessed with teacher versions of the Conners Rating Scale (CRS) and the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functions (BRIEF). Mean BLL was 4.2 ± 2.1 µg/dL; 10% had mild-to-severe ratings of Attentional Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (T score > 65). In negative binomial regression, BLL was not associated with CRS sub-scales, but was associated with a poorer ability to inhibit inappropriate behaviors, prevalence ratio (PR) [95% CI]: 1.01 [1.00, 1.03] as measured by the BRIEF. In covariate-adjusted models, the association with BLL was attenuated. When stratified by sex, the covariate-adjusted association between BLL, hyperactivity, poorer inhitibion, emotional control, and behavioral regulation was marginally significant for girls but not boys. In summary, among children with low lead-exposure, we found some, but nonetheless modest, evidence of a relationship between higher BLL and child behavior. If confirmed by larger studies and other objective measures of behavior, such links could have implications for learning and social interaction, particularly among girls.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2735
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • ADHD
  • Child’s behavior
  • Executive functions
  • Lead exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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