Could those fruits and vegetables you serve your kids to make them healthier actually be making them sick? New research suggests there may be a link between children with measurable breakdown products of organophosphates (the most commonly used type of pesticide) in their system and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Researcher Maryse Bouchard headed a study to investigate the effects of pesticides on children. Previously, studies of this nature have focused on people in farm communities with high toxin exposure, but Bouchard’s team was curious about the consequences of organophosphate exposure through normal food consumption. Her team reviewed data on over 1100 children between 8 and 15-years-old whose diverse backgrounds represented the United States as a whole. The researchers conducted interviews with the kids’ families in order to diagnose ADHD. Each of the kids also provided a urine sample, which was tested for detectable traces of common organophosphate pesticide residues.
The researchers found that just over 100 of the kids met the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis, and more than half of all of the children had traceable organophosphate pesticide residue in their urine. Comparing these two subgroups, they observed that a ten-fold increase in urinary pesticide metabolites was associated with double the likelihood of having ADHD compared to children with no measurable urinary pesticide metabolites.
Bouchard is the first to acknowledge her study’s limitations. Since she obtained only one urine test per child, some kids may have recently eaten something that caused them to read positive while they normally would not, or vice-versa. Assuming a reasonably steady diet, however, these results should be fairly representative. Furthermore, it is possible that the behaviors of children with ADHD could make them more susceptible to toxins, but further research would be required to evaluate this hypothesis. Indeed, the authors call for additional research is warranted to account for these caveats before causation between pesticides and ADHD can be inferred.
Nonetheless, this study does suggest that playing it safe with the food you serve your children may be of benefit. Since eliminating fruits and vegetables from your kids’ diets would have equally detrimental health consequences, purchasing organic fruits, vegetables and grains that are pesticide-free is a reasonable alternative. If the cost or availability of organics is an issue for you, experts recommend prioritizing your organic dollars for those foods that typically-contain the highest pesticide loads. Consult the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides for a list of the best and worst foods, or visit What’s on my Food to look up the pesticide content of specific foods you buy. Organic or not, scrub all your produce thoroughly before eating it to wash off any lingering residue.