Background Although the association between lead exposure and children's neurodevelopment has been studied, gender differences remain to be investigated. We examined the effects of lead exposure on the neurobehavioral development of 5-year-old children to identify the vulnerable time window of exposure and potential gender difference. Method A total of 1751 pregnant women and children participated in the prospective birth cohort study, Mothers and Children's Environmental Health study, since 2006. Lead levels were measured in the maternal blood in early and late pregnancies, in cord blood at birth, and in 2-, 3-, and 5-year-old children's blood. The behavior of 575 children aged 5 years were assessed using the Korean Child Behavior Checklist. The association between the blood lead level at each time window and behavior was examined using a generalized linear model adjusted for potential confounders and covariates. Results Lead levels at late pregnancy were significantly associated with increased risk of behavioral problems in males. Lead levels in 2- and 5-year-old children's blood significantly increased behavioral risks in females: for a 1-μg/dL increase in blood lead levels, the score for total behavioral problems increased by 3.00 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.56–5.45) during the late pregnancy in males, whereas it increased by 3.82 (95% CI: 1.25–6.39) at 2 years and by 5.72 (95% CI: 0.44–10.99) at 5 years in females with a stronger effect in attention and sleep problems. Conclusion Effects of lead toxicity on children's neurobehavioral development showed gender differences. Males were more susceptible to prenatal exposure, while females were more susceptible to postnatal exposure with stronger effects in attention and sleep problems.
- Blood lead
- Gender difference
- Neurobehavioral developments
- Prenatal and postnatal exposure