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Study finds link between pesticide and ADHD

By Amanda Butterfield | Posted - May 17, 2010 at 5:44 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A pesticide found on fruits and vegetables is being linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.

The study connects exposure to pesticides, known as organophosphates, to ADHD.

We took the findings to an expert. Dr. Howard Weeks is an assistant professor of child psychiatry at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute. He works with kids who have ADHD.

"ADHD is a brain disorder that is a chemical disorder in the brain," he says.

Why children may be especially sensitive to pesticides
• Their internal organs are still developing and maturing,
• In relation to their body weight, infants and children eat and drink more than adults, possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides in food and water.
• certain behaviors--such as playing on floors or lawns or putting objects in their mouths--increase a child's exposure to pesticides used in homes and yards.
-EPA

After looking over the study, printed in the journal "Pediatrics," Weeks was very interested.

"What's interesting about this study is it is the largest one to date to show a link," he says. "It's not definitive, so not conclusive, but very concerning."

The study shows kids exposed to high levels of organophosphates, found on commercially-grown fruits and vegetables, are more likely to have ADHD. The study also found children are more sensitive to it than adults.

"When you are young, your brain is still developing, so you are more susceptible to environmental insults," Weeks says.

Weeks says 3 to 5 percent of kids under the age of 18 have ADHD, which means they have trouble paying attention and can be hyperactive. He says about half grow out of it and the rest learn to adapt or take medication.

"We don't understand what causes ADHD. We know there are genetic components, environmental," Weeks says. "This may be one of the pieces that could effect people to develop ADHD. It's not going to be the entire causation."

A Child with ADHD may have 1 or more of the following symptoms:
Inattention - Has a hard time paying attention, daydreams, is easily distracted, is disorganized, loses a lot of things
Hyperactivity - Seems to be in constant motion, has difficulty staying seated, squirms, talks too much.
Impulsivity - Acts and speaks without thinking, unable to wait, interrupts others.

Like the study, Weeks recommends parents keep feeding children fruits and vegetables, but with a warning attached.

"Wash them before you feed them to your kids," he says.

Weeks also suggests buying organic produce.

The lead author of the study says she hopes it raises awareness of the risk associated with pesticide exposure, but admits more studies need to be done.

The children used in the nationwide study were between ages 8 and 15.

E-mail: abutterfield@ksl.com

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Amanda Butterfield

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