Dietary contributions to increased background lead, mercury, and cadmium in 9–11 Year old children: Accounting for racial differences

Brooks B. Gump, Bryce Hruska, Patrick J. Parsons, Christopher D. Palmer, James A. MacKenzie, Kestutis Bendinskas, Lynn Brann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Initial interest in the adverse consequences of exposure to lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), and cadmium (Cd) focused on relatively high exposures through environmental or occupational sources; however, recent evidence suggests even low-level background exposure to non-essential metals might be detrimental, particularly for children's health and development. One potentially important source of increased background levels of non-essential toxic metals is diet. Objectives: We considered whether differences in diet are associated with levels of non-essential metals in blood and whether racial differences in metals are mediated by dietary differences. Methods: We assessed blood levels of Pb, Hg, and Cd in a sample of 9–11 year-old children (N = 295) comprised of 42% European Americans (EAs), 58% African American (AAs), and 47% female. Diet was assessed using 24-h dietary recalls during phone interviews administered to parents on two consecutive days (Friday and Saturday). The Healthy Eating Index-2105 (HEI-2015) was calculated to assess diet quality. Results: The current study identified significant dietary sources of non-essential metal exposure – namely total fruit for Pb, total protein for Hg, and greens and beans for Cd. Moreover, AAs were found to have significantly higher blood levels of Pb and Hg than EAs and these racial differences were significantly mediated by these dietary differences. Discussion: This study is one of very few to consider total diet in children and exposure to the non-essential metals Pb, Hg, and Cd, and the first to demonstrate that racial differences in increased background blood levels of non-essential toxic metals can be accounted for by racial differences in diet. Given regional differences in food consumption patterns and specific farm and store sources for the foods, the generalizability of the current findings has yet to be determined; however, commonly consumed foods appear to be a significant source of low-level non-essential metals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109308
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Children
  • Diet
  • Nonessential metals
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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