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Pesticides and child development

Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities is an excellent free newsletter aimed at parents of kids with learning disabilities and ADHD. I have generally found it to be a good resource. In this issue, they linked to an article about pesticides and children.

Did you know that every human tested now has pesticides in their body fat? This is an area of huge concern that, because of the extent of exposure, is almost impossible to test reliably. Because everyone is being exposed, it is our “new normal”—we can’t know what the effects are because we don’t have enough data on unexposed people.

This problem was explained well in the chapter on lung cancer in the very excellent (but big bummer) book Emperor of All Maladies, which is a “biography” of cancer and its treatment. When the first doctors tried to study whether smoking causes lung cancer, they both thought it was a ridiculous idea. Their reasoning was that pretty much everyone smoked at that time, so it couldn’t be smoking causing lung cancer. They had trouble searching out non-smokers for the study, but after a few years as the numbers came pouring in, they were astounded. What everyone thought was an inevitable part of human existence turned out to be largely caused by a common habit. One of the doctors who did the study was a heavy smoker, and he quit the day they started to see the results of their data. He died of lung cancer soon after.

That story is instructive now as we ask the obvious question: Do we have so many kids now being diagnosed with learning disabilities, ADHD, and even things like autism simply because we’re diagnosing more often and more carefully? Were kids always like this, but we didn’t notice? Or are there multiple factors—one of them our exposure to pesticides—causing these disorders to rise in our current population?

The American Academy of Pediatrics is putting their vote on the latter. In their most recent issue of Pediatrics, the AAP has sounded the alarm, stating that “Prenatal and early childhood exposure to pesticides is associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function and behavioral problems.”

Of course, the first question every parent asks is, “What can I do? Pesticides are everywhere.” In fact, modern humans simply can’t escape pesticides: they are in our water, our air, and even in much of our organically grown food. But we can try to minimize our risks. “Smart Kids” links helpfully to a chapter of Simplifying the Pesticide Risk Equation: The Organic Solution which helpfully explains which fruits and vegetables carry the highest pesticide load at different times of the year. The tables are clearly laid out and easy to post on your refrigerator (or stick in your smartphone, if you’re like me!).

We can’t get rid of pesticides in our daily lives unless our entire nation goes along with the idea, and we know how well such debates are going over in Congress these days. But we can do easy things that may help keep our kids safer.


Posted in Health, Parenting.

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