Lead Exposure Poses Considerable Global Health, Economic Burden

Global lead exposure has considerable health and economic costs.

HealthDay News — Global lead exposure has considerable health and economic costs, according to a study published online Sept. 11 in The Lancet Planetary Health.

Bjorn Larsen and Ernesto Sánchez-Triana, Ph.D., from The World Bank in Washington, D.C., conducted a modeling study using country blood lead level estimates from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2019. IQ loss was estimated in the global population of children younger than 5 years, and its cost was calculated. Cardiovascular deaths due to lead exposure among people aged 25 years or older were estimated.

The researchers estimated that children younger than 5 years lost 765 million IQ points, and in 2019, 5,545,000 adults died from cardiovascular disease as a result of lead exposure. Overall, 95.3 and 90.2 percent of the total global IQ loss and cardiovascular disease deaths, respectively, occurred in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). IQ loss was nearly 80 percent higher in LMICs than a previous estimate, and cardiovascular disease deaths were sixfold higher than the estimate from GBD 2019. In 2019, the global cost of lead exposure was $6.0 trillion, which was equivalent to 6.9 percent of the global gross domestic product. Overall, 77 and 23 percent of the cost was the welfare cost of cardiovascular disease mortality and the present value of future income losses from IQ loss, respectively.

“What is concerning about our study is that it indicates these damaging health effects are much greater than we previously thought and that they come at a very high economic cost, especially in low- and middle-income countries,” Larsen said in a statement.

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