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Simple Steps Support Kids' Attention

Simple Steps Support Kids' Attention
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A new report suggests that exposure to certain pesticides may increase the risk of ADHD
As back-to-school season starts, many parents are turning their thoughts to supporting their kids’ success in any way possible. A new report in Pediatrics suggests that exposure to certain pesticides may increase the risk of attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, so families addressing this condition through other interventions can add certain environmental steps to their bag of tricks.

Pesticides are commonly found in our daily environment. Food, drinking water, and the home are common sources, and dietary sources are the most common exposure source for infants and children, according to the authors of the new study. This study found that organophosphates—specific chemicals found in some pesticides—were more likely to be higher in the urine of children who were diagnosed with ADHD (119 out of 1,139 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey).

The Environmental Protection Agency states that children may be at particular risk from pesticide exposure because their developing brains are sensitive to such exposure and because many of their activities are closer to the ground, where pesticides are found. The study authors also point out that children have less detoxifying enzymes to clear pesticides from their system compared with adults. Because of this increased risk it is important to find ways to reduce and minimize children’s pesticide exposure. Here are a few tips:

  • Buy organic food if possible. While organic foods may not be completely pesticide-free, the exposure is generally less than non-organically grown foods. Eating a variety of foods may also help avoid excessive exposure to one type of pesticide.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables. It may not eliminate pesticide exposure, but this extra step can reduce exposure. Peeling produce may also help, though doing so may reduce the amount of nutrients gained from eating.
  • Clean your kids. After playing outdoors, it is important for kids to wash up and clean off dirt and chemicals. Some households also ask people to take their shoes off at the door so as not to track in chemicals on floors and carpets.
  • Be educated about pesticide products. It is important to be educated about the products you use around the home and to become aware of eco-friendly products with natural pesticides, which may help reduce exposure to toxins. The Environmental Protection Agency website offers a lot of information about how to protect kids from potentially toxic pesticides. When using any type of pesticide, follow the label instructions for safe handling and disposal.
  • Ask schools to protect kids. Parents can get further involved in helping protect kids from pesticide exposure by asking schools to use environmentally- and child-friendly products in the building and on the playground.

Keep in mind that while the authors of the new study suggest an association between pesticides and ADHD, they cannot prove from this study alone that pesticide exposure is the cause.

(Pediatrics 2010;125:e1270–e1277)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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