Racial/Ethnic Differences in Childhood Blood Lead Levels Among Children <72 Months of Age in the United States: a Systematic Review of the Literature

  • Brandi M. WhiteEmail author
  • Heather Shaw Bonilha
  • Charles EllisJr.


Childhood lead poisoning is a serious public health problem with long-term adverse effects. Healthy People 2020’s environmental health objective aims to reduce childhood blood lead levels; however, efforts may be hindered by potential racial/ethnic differences. Recent recommendations have lowered the blood lead reference level. This review examined racial/ethnic differences in blood lead levels among children under 6 years of age. We completed a search of PubMed, CINAHL, and PsycINFO databases for published works from 2002 to 2012. We identified studies that reported blood lead levels and the race/ethnicity of at least two groups. Ten studies met inclusion criteria for the review. Blood lead levels were most frequently reported for black, white, and Hispanic children. Six studies examined levels between blacks, whites, and Hispanics and two between blacks and whites. Studies reporting mean lead levels among black, whites, and Hispanics found that blacks had the highest mean blood lead level. Additionally, studies reporting blood lead ranges found that black children were more likely to have elevated levels. Studies suggest that black children have higher blood lead levels compared to other racial/ethnic groups. Future studies are warranted to obtain ample sample sizes for several racial/ethnic groups to further examine differences in lead levels.


Childhood blood lead levels Environmental public health Racial and ethnic disparities 



The first author would like to thank Eric S. Hall, MA, MCE, and Herbert White, Jr., MD, MPH, MS, for providing feedback on the manuscript.

Ethics Approval and Consent to participate

No animal or human studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

Conflict of interest

Brandi M. White, Heather S. Bonilha, and Charles Ellis declare that they have no conflict of interest.


The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


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Copyright information

© W. Montague Cobb-NMA Health Institute 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brandi M. White
    • 1
    Email author
  • Heather Shaw Bonilha
    • 2
    • 3
  • Charles EllisJr.
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Health Sciences & Research, College of Health ProfessionsMedical University of South Carolina (MUSC)CharlestonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health Sciences & Research, College of Health ProfessionsMUSCCharlestonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, College of MedicineMUSCCharlestonUSA
  4. 4.Communication Equity and Outcomes Laboratory, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, College of Allied Health SciencesEast Carolina UniversityGreenvilleUSA

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