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Study Links Pesticides to Children’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

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A new study links organophosphate pesticides widely used on food and in the home to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a mental disorder common in children and characterized by symptoms such as severe or frequent impulsiveness, inattention or hyperactivity. There is no cure for ADHD, but treatments including prescription drugs can relieve the symptoms.

Study authors from the Harvard School of Public Health studied data for 1139 children from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2000 –2004) and interviewed the children’s parents. They found that children with a higher concentration of organophosphate metabolites in their urine, an indicator of pesticide exposure, were more likely to have ADHD. The urine levels researchers associated with ADHD were not high levels, but levels common in children of the United States.

"What I think is so important is this is not a select group of people with unusually high pesticide exposure," study author Marc C. Weisskopf told WebMD. "This is a general population sample. If this link with ADHD is proved true, there is a big chunk of people this is going to be relevant for."

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), appears in the May 17, 2010 online issue of PEDIATRICS, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Authors of the study were Maryse F. Bouchard, PhD, David C. Bellinger, PhD, Robert O. Wright, MD, MPH, and Marc G. Weisskopf, PhD.

There are about 40 organophosphate pesticides registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 73 million pounds of these pesticides used in agriculture and residential settings in 2001, according to the study researchers.

Nazi Germany first developed organophosphates as chemical warfare nerve agents during World War II.

Children are most at risk for health effects of pesticides because their brain is developing and more susceptible to neurotoxins. The study did not determine the cause of the pesticide exposure, but the primary way children are exposed is by eating foods treated with the pesticides. This not only includes fresh produce, but also canned and manufactured foods.

Parents can help reduce pesticide exposure to their children by using in home pesticides carefully according the label directions and eating organic produce. They should also wash all fresh produce thoroughly.