Children are a product of their environments, potentially exposed to multiple environmental insults that shape the trajectory of their lives. One such insult is exposure to neurotoxicants, such as lead, which is associated with intellectual deficits, emotional problems, alterations in brain structure in adulthood, neuropsychiatric pathogenesis, and obesity. A second potential insult can come from low-socioeconomic status (SES) of the family and the surrounding community, which are also associated with brain and cognitive developmental deficits. Unfortunately, the poorest individuals, who are more likely to be exposed to lead, are also more likely to be overweight and obese, thus accentuating the risk factors for deficits in neurocognitive development. Our recent research has suggested that risk factors associated with elevated lead exposure are associated with cognitive and neurobiological deficits in children, especially in those living in low-SES families. However, there are no studies that have examined how lead exposure, obesity, and SES are associated with brain structure, cognition, and behavior during childhood and adolescence. Here, we propose to examine the associations between SES, blood lead levels (BLLs), and obesity on cognition, behavior, and brain structure.

Our proposed application of multimodal neuroimaging to parse the influences of adiposity, SES-related environmental qualities, and BLLs on brain structure offer a novel opportunity to identify factors that may improve a child’s quality of life. Here, we will measure cognition using the NIH Toolbox, lead exposure in blood samples, behavioral and emotional problems using the Child Behavior Checklist, body fat using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and brain structure using structural MRI and diffusion tensor imaging. We predict that increased BLLs and body fat will be negatively associated with cognitive performance and brain structure, positively associated with problem behaviors, and that low SES will accentuate these negative associations.

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