Crime and childhood lead exposure

The hypothesis that precipitous drop in US crime rates resulted from previous declines in childhood lead exposure has been widely aired. A new study in JAMA Pediatrics of data from New Zealand, however, casts doubt on the strength of the association as regards such measures as violent crime rates, conviction, and recidivism. While lead exposure and involvement in crime are each known to correlate independently with low socio-economic status, “This study fails to support a dose-response association between BLL [blood lead levels] and criminal offending in a sample in which there was no association between BLL and childhood socioeconomic status.” [Sean Duffy, Courthouse News] In America, prevailing blood-lead levels have dropped greatly since the phase-out of leaded gasoline between the 1970s and the 1990s and the US ban on household lead paint in 1978.

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