Children Exposed to Lead Show Criminal Behavior as Adults

May 29, 2008
Scientists discovered that exposure to lead during prenatal development and early childhood is linked to a likelihood of the criminal behavior in adulthood.

The research from the University of Cincinnati was based on a long-term data to examine how lead exposure could be associated with criminal activity later in life.

Kim Dietrich, PhD, and his colleagues were monitoring pregnant women living in areas with high levels of lead contamination through the prenatal period till the early period after birth and during childhood and adulthood.

The scientists recorded the peculiarities of the recruited children's behavior, development and neurological characteristics. They also measured the level of lead in the blood of the children and compared them to the data about criminal arrests records, including different categories of the arrests: fraud, drugs, violent, property, obstruction of justice, serious motor vehicle, disorderly conduct and others.

Out of the 250 children, who took part in the research, the individuals having the highest levels of lead during prenatal development and early childhood showed the highest rates of criminal behavior after age 18.

As much as 55 percent of those individuals were arrested at least once, which included such crimes as drugs, vehicle and other crimes. The adults having to the highest levels of blood-lead as children were more often recorded for violent crimes.

Dietrich said that low income inner city children are at increased risk of lead exposure, which is one of the risk factors, resulting in criminal behavior in adulthood.

It was also found that expose to lead during childhood is linked to the considerable damage to the certain parts of the brain, that later resulted in behavioral problems. The certain parts of the brain that are responsible for regulation of the behavior, decision making and fine motor control underwent specific changes that can explain the association between criminal behavior and lead exposure.