The Prevalence and Effect of Blood Lead Levels on Body Mass Index in Children in Rural Western Kenya
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lead poisoning accounts for 0.6% of the global disease burden. It has been described as the silent epidemic plaguing developing countries. Children have been found to be most vulnerable to exposure to lead. The insidious effects of this level on children’s growth and learning are well documented. However, multiple studies have also shown the harmful effects of sub-clinical BLL (<10 μg/dl), effects that are irreversible but entirely preventable. The goal of this community-based research study was to investigate the prevalence of lead poisoning and the potential relationship between clinical and sub-clinical blood lead levels and body mass index (BMI) in a remote, rural location of western Kenya. Among children who have other major impacts on their growth, it is important to know the contribution of clinical and sub-clinical levels of lead. This cross-sectional study analyzes 2012 data of 292 children 14 years of age and younger in Nyanza Province. The average blood lead level (BLL) was 3.601 μg/dL with a range of <3.3 μg/dL to 35.7 μg/dL (SD=3.166 μg/dL). Only 1.03% of the sample (n=3) had blood lead levels above 10 μg/dL but 30% (n=88) had BLL between 5 μg/dL and 10 μg/dL. A level of 4.6 μg/dL was shown in as early as 1 month of age. This indicates exposure long before the child is able to play in or ingest contaminated soil. The relationship between lead and BMI was non-significant and was confounded by age. There seems to be decreased but constant exposure to lead across age groups. Adjusting for age and gender, episodes of malaria and lead were both significantly associated with BMI percentile (F=6.61, p<0.0001, r2=0.133). The comorbidity of lead and repeated episodes of malaria show a decrease of 19-61% in BMI percentile within an age group. These results indicate that lead poisoning is a concern in this community. Efforts should be made to locate the source of lead while preventative measures are taken to decrease exposure pathways.