Detectable Blood Lead Level and Body Size in Early Childhood

Andrea E. Cassidy-Bushrow, Suzanne Havstad, Niladri Basu, David R. Ownby, Sung Kyun Park, Dennis R. Ownby, Christine Cole Johnson, Ganesa Wegienka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Rates of childhood obesity have risen at the same time rates of high blood lead levels (BLLs) have fallen. Recent studies suggest that higher BLL is inversely associated with body size in older children (ages 3–19 years). No contemporaneous studies have examined if having a detectable BLL is associated with body size in very early childhood. We examined if detectable BLL is associated with body size in early childhood. A total of 299 birth cohort participants completed a study visit at ages 2–3 years with weight and height measurements; prior to this clinic visit, a BLL was drawn as part of routine clinical care. Body mass index (BMI) percentile and Z-score were calculated; children with BMI ≥85th percentile were considered overweight/obese at age of 2 years. Detectable BLL was defined as BLL ≥1 μg/dL. A total of 131 (43.8 %) children had a detectable BLL measured at mean aged 15.4 ± 5.5 months. Mean age at body size assessment was 2.2 ± 0.3 years (53.2 % male, 68.6 % African-American). After adjusting for race, sex, and birth weight, children with a detectable BLL had a 43 % lower risk of BMI ≥85th percentile (P = 0.041) and a 0.35-unit lower BMI Z-score (P = 0.008) compared to children without a detectable BLL. Neither race nor sex modified this association (all interactions P > 0.21). Consistent with recent studies in older children, having a detectable BLL was associated with smaller body size at ages 2–3 years. Additional research on the mechanism of this association is needed but may include mechanisms of appetite suppression via lead.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-47
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Trace Element Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Childhood disease
  • Lead
  • Obesity
  • Pediatrics
  • Population health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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