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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2021

Lead in Blood of Children

Lead is a major environmental health hazard for young children. Childhood exposure to lead contributes to learning problems (including reduced intelligence quotient [IQ] and reduced academic achievement) and behavioral problems.66 A blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) is defined as "elevated" for purposes of identifying children for follow-up activities, such as environmental investigations and ongoing monitoring,67 but no level of childhood lead exposure can be considered safe,68 and adverse health effects can occur at much lower concentrations.66 Lead exposures have declined since the 1970s, due largely to the removal of lead from gasoline and paint. Children ages 1–5 are particularly vulnerable because they frequently engage in hand-to-mouth behavior.

Indicator PHY4.A: Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL, selected years 1988–1994 through 2013–2016
Indicator PHY4.A: Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL, selected years 1988–1994 through 2013–2016

NOTE: The reference level of 5 µg/dL is the 97.5th percentile of blood lead levels for children ages 1–5 in 2005–2008. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently uses this reference level to identify children with elevated blood lead levels.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Indicator PHY4.B: Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL by race and Hispanic origin69 and poverty status, 2011–2016
Indicator PHY4.B: Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL by race and Hispanic origin and poverty status, 2011–2016

NOTE: NH = non-Hispanic origin. The CDC currently use 5 µg/dL as a reference level to identify children with elevated blood lead levels. Persons of Mexican American origin may be of any race.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

  • In 2013–2016, 0.9% of children ages 1–5 had blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL compared with 25.6% in 1988–1994.
  • In 2011–2016, the percentages of Black, non-Hispanic children and White, non-Hispanic children with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL (2.4% and 1.5%, respectively) were greater than the percentage of Mexican American children with elevated blood lead levels (0.3%).
  • In 2011–2016, 2.2% of children living in poverty had blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL compared with 0.6% of children living above the poverty level.

table icon PHY4A HTML Table | PHY4B HTML Table

66 National Toxicology Program. (2012). NTP monograph: Health effects of low-level lead. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Toxicology Program. http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/go/36443

67 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). CDC response to advisory committee on childhood lead poisoning prevention recommendations in "Low level lead exposure harms children: A renewed call for primary prevention." http://www.cdc. gov/nceh/lead/acclpp/cdc_response_lead_exposure_recs.pdf

68 Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. (2012). Low level lead exposure harms children: A renewed call for primary prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/ACCLPP/final_Document_030712.pdf

69 For 2011–2016, the revised 1997 U.S. Office of Management and Budget standards for data on race and ethnicity were used. Persons could select one or more of five racial groups: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Included in the total but not shown separately are American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and "Two or more races." Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately but combined for reporting. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.