Children who are exposed to the pesticides found on commercially grown produce are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than kids who did not have as much exposure, according to a recent study which appears in the May 2010 journal of Pediatrics.
In the U.S. alone, an estimated 4.5 million children ages 5 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and rates of diagnosis have risen 3% a year between 1997 and 2006. Increasingly, research suggests that chemical influences, perhaps in combination with other environmental factors may be contributing to the increase in attention problems. When researchers measured the pesticide byproduct levels in 1,139 children, they found that those with higher than average levels of one byproduct were twice as likely to get diagnosed with ADHD.
The potentially harmful pesticides, called organophosphates, have been associated in the past with both cognitive and behavioral issues in kids. However, earlier research looked at communities of high risk populations like farm workers.
While the Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that the pesticides can’t be used for most residential applications, they’re still turning up in fruits and veggies. In fact, a USDA report from 2008 found that detectable levels of pesticides were contained in 28% of frozen blueberries, 20% of celery and 25% of strawberries.
Studies linking environmental substances to disease are coming fast and furious. Chemicals in plastics and common household goods have been associated with serious developmental problems, while a long inventory of other hazards are contributing to rising rates of modern ills: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, autism.
To avoid potentially harmful pesticides, buy local or organic if you can. Organic fruits and vegetables contain much less pesticides, so I would certainly advise getting those for children. National surveys have also shown that fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets contain less pesticides even if they’re not organic.