Lead is a toxic metal that can be absorbed by the body, usually through the stomach and lungs. Lead poisoning happens when too much lead gets stored in the body.
You can’t see or smell lead. However, lead poisoning can affect nearly every system in the body. Children with lead poisoning may not look, act or feel sick, but they may develop learning and behavior problems. Even low levels of exposure can cause health problems in children.
There is no effective treatment for lead exposure and the damage done is permanent. The best way to prevent lead poisoning is to have your child tested and keep him or her from coming into contact with lead-contaminated objects.
A child’s environment is full of lead. Children are exposed to lead from different sources (such as paint, gasoline, solder, and consumer products) and through different pathways (such as air, food, water, dust, and soil). Although there are several exposure sources, lead-based paint is the most widespread and dangerous high-dose source of lead exposure for young children
Wash children’s hands often.
Wash toys and pacifiers after use.
Wash work clothes separately, if a family member works with lead.
Wash surfaces with a damp cloth when dusting.
Wash floors with a wet mop, and wash windowsills twice weekly, with all-purpose detergent.
Prevent children from putting their hands and toys in their mouth.
Prevent children from playing in dirt.
Prevent children from being near remodeling projects.
Prevent children from eating imported candies and snacks.
Make sure to use cold water for cooking, drinking and baby formula.
Make cold water run for 1 minute before using.
Make sure to leave shoes at the door before entering the home.
Make children’s food high in iron and calcium.
Prevention Through Nutrition
- A healthy diet can protect children from lead poisoning by decreasing lead absorption:
- Offer 4-6 snacks or meals every day. A child with a full stomach is less likely to absorb lead.
- A child who eats enough iron, calcium, vitamin C and protein will absorb less lead.
- Keep fat intake low. Offer healthy snacks like fruit, vegetable sticks (maybe with peanut butter, iron fortified cereal or bread, cheese or pudding instead of candy or chips.
- Be sure to wash your hands and your child’s hands before preparing, handling, or eating food.
Foods high in iron and protein
- Lean red meat, chicken, liver, or fish
- Dried beans, peas or lentils
- Leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach
- Fortified cereals and breads
- Peanuts, sunflower seeds
- Dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes and apricot
Foods high in vitamin C
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Bell peppers, collards, tomatoes, raw cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and greens
- Potatoes with skins and sweet potatoes
- Strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe
Foods high in calcium
- Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, collard greens, turnip greens
- Milk, cheese, yogurt, ice milk, pudding
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Salmon and sardines
- Calcium enriched soy milk
- Dried fruits and raisins
Avoid high fat foods:
- Fried foods, such as French fries or potato chips
- Sausage, bacon, lunch meats like bologna
- Margarine, butter, shortening, lard or cooking oil
- Cakes, pies, pancakes
This publication was supported by the Grant or Cooperative Agreement Number, 1 NUE2EH001366-01-00, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.
Page last reviewed: May 24, 2018
Page last updated: May 24, 2018