Cadmium exposure and neurodevelopmental outcomes in U.S. children

Timothy Ciesielski, Jennifer Weuve, David C. Bellinger, Joel Schwartz, Bruce Lanphear, Robert O. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

194 Scopus citations


Background: Low-level environmental cadmium exposure in children may be associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. Objective: Our aim was to evaluate associations between urinary cadmium concentration and reported learning disability (LD), special education utilization, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in U.S. children using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data. Methods: We analyzed data from a subset of participants in NHANES (1999-2004) who were 6-15 years of age and had spot urine samples analyzed for cadmium. Outcomes were assessed by parent or proxy-respondent report. We fit multivariable-adjusted logistic regression models to estimate associations between urinary cadmium and the outcomes. Results: When we compared children in the highest quartile of urinary cadmium with those in the lowest quartile, odds ratios adjusted for several potential confounders were 3.21 [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.43, 7.17] for LD, 3.00 (95% CI: 1.12, 8.01) for special education, and 0.67 (95% CI: 0.28, 1.61) for ADHD. There were no significant interactions with sex, but associations with LD and special education were somewhat stronger in males, and the trend in the ADHD analysis was only evident among those with blood lead levels above the median. Conclusions: These findings suggest that children who have higher urinary cadmium concentrations may have increased risk of both LD and special education. Importantly, we observed these associations at exposure levels that were previously considered to be without adverse effects, and these levels are common among U.S. children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)758-763
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Cadmium
  • Learning disability
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Neuropsychological development
  • Nhanes
  • Risk assessment
  • Special education


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