Blood Pressure in Relation to Environmental Lead Exposure in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003 to 2010

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In view of the declining environmental lead exposure in the United States, we analyzed the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2003–2010) for association of blood pressure and hypertension with blood lead. The 12 725 participants included 21.1% blacks, 20.5% Hispanics, 58.4% whites, and 48.7% women. Blacks compared with non-Blacks had higher systolic and diastolic pressures (126.5 versus 123.9 and 71.9 versus 69.6 mm Hg) and higher hypertension prevalence (44.7 versus 36.8%). Blood lead was lower in whites than in non-whites (1.46 versus 1.57 μg/dL) and in women than in men (1.25 versus 1.80 μg/dL). In multivariable analyses of all participants, blood lead doubling was associated with higher (P≤0.0007) systolic and diastolic pressure (+0.76 mm Hg; 95% confidence interval, 0.38–1.13 and +0.43 mm Hg; 0.18–0.68), but not with the odds of hypertension (0.95; 0.90–1.01; P=0.11). Associations with blood lead were nonsignificant (P≥0.09) for systolic pressure in women and for diastolic pressure in non-whites. Among men, systolic pressure increased with blood lead (P≤0.060) with effect sizes associated with blood lead doubling ranging from +0.65 mm Hg in whites to +1.61 mm Hg in blacks. For systolic pressure, interactions of ethnicity and sex with blood lead were all significant (P≤0.019). In conclusion, small and inconsistent effect sizes in the associations of blood pressure with blood lead likely exclude current environmental lead exposure as a major hypertension cause in the United States.

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