University of Cincinnati researchers have released new evidence, spanning more than 20 years, that draws a direct relationship between the amount of lead in a child’s blood and the likelihood he or she will commit crimes as an adult, reports USA Today. Earlier research showed that lead has harmful effects on judgment, cognitive function, and the ability to regulate behavior. Until now the best research focused on juveniles, not adults.
Researchers collected data from as early as 1979 when pregnant women and their healthy babies had blood drawn regularly at four medical clinics. Nearly two decades later, the researchers tracked down 250 subjects, ages 19-24. Controlling for factors including parental IQ, education, income, and drug use, the team found that the more lead in a child’s blood from birth through age 7, the more likely he or she was to be arrested as an adult. The tie between high lead levels and violent crime was particularly strong. “We need to be thinking about lead as a drug and a fairly strong one,” says Kim Dietrich, a professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and the principal investigator for the study in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine.