Pesticides and ADHD


Pesticides and ADHD

Studies have linked pesticide exposure with ADHD in children. Avoid pesticides by buying organic produce that bears the Canada Organic certification label.

We’ve all been warned about the potential dangers of pesticides, and we’ve heard the recommendations to choose organic whenever possible. But some may be dissuaded by the price difference. If choosing organic products meant ensuring our children’s health, though, most would be more than happy to absorb the extra cost. 

A clear demonstration of possible harm to our children has recently been discovered by the departments of Environmental Health and Epidemiology at Harvard University. Their study shows that children who have been exposed to common levels of pesticides were more likely to have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Searching for the cause

Researchers have not yet discovered a definitive cause for ADHD. There is no medical test to diagnose it—professionals determine whether a child has ADHD based on the child’s observable behaviours. Yet despite the seemingly tentative nature of the diagnosis—or perhaps because of it, this condition has been on the rise—and parents, teachers, and health professionals alike have been searching for the reason.

Previous studies have linked ADHD to food additives, while other studies have indicated that genetics may be to blame. Although these claims may hold some validity, no one cause has been shown to be at the root of ADHD. The new Harvard study represents hope in the search for answers. 

The baddest of the bad

Not all nonorganic produce is created equal when it comes to the level of pesticides they may contain. According to the Environmental Working Group, the following nonorganic items contain the highest levels of chemicals and should always be purchased organic: 

  • celery
  • peaches
  • strawberries
  • apples
  • blueberries
  • nectarines
  • bell peppers
  • spinach
  • kale
  • cherries
  • potatoes
  • imported grapes

Pesticides and hyperactivity

The Harvard study, based on cross-sectional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2000 to 2004), examined figures from 1,139 children. Of this sampling, 119 children met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD according to modified criteria developed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2004).

The study determined that children who had higher levels of urinary dialkyl phosphate concentrations, especially dimethyl alkylphosphate—pesticide chemicals commonly encountered by US children—were more likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD. Although the researchers caution that further studies are needed to show a causal link, the results are worthy of attention.

This study begs the question: if pesticide exposure may be linked to ADHD in children, then with how many other health problems might it be associated? Thankfully, you don’t have to find out. By choosing organic, you can avoid many of the chemicals that are found on nonorganic produce and in nonorganic products. 

Deciphering the labels

With many Big Food companies hopping on the organic and natural-health bandwagon, it’s important to know what you’re getting. The standards listed below have been developed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and all products must comply accordingly.

Organic and certified organic
Product must be made from at least 95 percent organic ingredients to bear the organic symbol or be labelled as organic. The product must be certified organic and the
name of the certifying body must be present on the package.

Made with 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients
Products made with 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients may declare the percentage of organic ingredients in the product. They may not, however, bear the organic symbol nor be labelled as organic. The product must also display the name of the certifying body on the label.

Made with less than 70 percent organic ingredients
Products made with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may not declare a percentage of organic ingredients; however, they may indicate in the ingredient list which ingredients
are organic as long as they are certified by a designated
certifying body.

Choose organic

Whether you have a family with young children or not, choosing organic whenever possible will help to ensure that you and the ones you care about minimize their exposure to pesticides.

Fortunately, it’s easy to find organic products nowadays: most local green grocers carry organic produce and many supermarket chains have a natural health food aisle. Your local farmers’ market may also be an excellent source for organic produce. Just make sure you ask the seller whether they use chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

To make choosing organic products extra easy, look for the Canada Organic label, which made its debut in June 2009.

National Organic Week

In celebration of all things organic, the Canada Organic Trade Association, in partnership with the Canadian Organic Growers, is launching a national Organic Week from October 9 to October 16.

Organic Week events include pickling workshops, local farm tours, a recipe contest, and more. To learn more about Organic Week and to find out how you can participate, visit

What does the Canada Organic label mean?

According to the Organic Trade Association, “organic production is a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.”

The Canada Organic label means that the foodstuff item on which it appears has met government-sanctioned standards as created by the Canada Organic Trade Association and is:

  • pesticide free
  • hormone free
  • antibiotic free
  • not genetically modified
  • not cloned

As evidence continues to mount about the dangers of pesticide exposure, it becomes increasingly important to choose organic whenever possible. For your sake and your children’s, avoid pesticides at all costs—a few extra dollars here and there is worth your family’s health.


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