Expert Perspective on Lead and Children's Health

Lead has been getting a lot of attention in the media recently. Questions linger about lead’s impact on health and ways in which we get exposed to it. To set the record straight, we spoke to a leading expert on pediatric health and nutrition, Dr. Keith Ayoob, Ed. D., associate clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, to get his perspective. Here’s what Dr. Ayoob had to say:

How do children get exposed to lead? 

Children are at an increased risk because they show signs of elevated exposure (toxicity) sooner than adults do. The scientific evidence today shows that exposure comes from non-food ingestion (paint chips and lead dust.) Long-term exposure in children can result in impaired IQ.

How would I know if anyone in my family has elevated blood levels?

A blood test is the only way to know. Have your family, especially children, tested but remember the vast majority of elevated levels of lead and even lead poisoning comes from paint in homes built before the late 1970’s. I’m concerned that the public, especially parents and caregivers, will focus on food where lead is almost never an issue. The real sources of lead contamination are in homes.

How does lead get into our food?

Lead has always been and will be in our environment. It is common to find varying, albeit low, levels in our food supply in fruits, vegetables, and their juices. FDA continually monitors lead levels through the Total Diet Study and will act accordingly should the levels exceed for certain foods. In my 33 years of working with children with special needs, I have never seen a case of a child with lead poisoning from food.

What can we do to limit exposure?

I always recommend a balanced diet which is protective in many ways beyond reducing exposure to lead. Foods high in nutrients like iron, calcium and vitamin C actually help reduce lead absorption which is yet another reason to include fruit, juice, yogurt and cheese and high iron foods like beef, green vegetables, and beans. In more ways than one, being proactive with your families’ diet can be protective in the long-term.