Do you think organic fruits and vegetables are too expensive to buy for your family meals? If you have a hyperactive child, think again.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately, 4.5 million children ages 5 to 17 in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD. These rates have risen 3% a year between 1997 and 2006. Could the problem be something in the air or food our children eat? A new study suggests this is a strong possibility.

Appearing in the journal Pediatrics in 2010 (published online on May 17, 2010), a study conducted by Harvard researchers found that relatively low-level exposure to common pesticides doubles kids' risk of ADHD. The researchers took urine samples of 1,139 children, aged 8 to 15 from across the United States. They tested for signs of exposure to various organophosphate pesticides used on commercially grown fruit and vegetables. Ninety four percent of the children showed evidence of the compounds. At the same time, interviews with the children's mothers, or another caretaker, revealed that about one child in 10 met the criteria for ADHD, the approximate estimate for the general population.

"That's a very strong association that, if true, is of very serious concern," said researcher Marc Weisskopf of the Harvard School of Public Health, who worked on the study. "These are widely used pesticides."

The findings of this study are not surprising. Originally developed for chemical warfare, organophosphates are known to be toxic to the nervous system. And pesticides are designed to kill pests. That they might also have a toxic effect on the nervous system in humans is not a huge leap, and especially in children who are more sensitive to their effects as their nervous systems are still maturing. As most children across the US eat non-organic fruits and vegetables, a large number of which, according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited in the study, have detectable levels of pesticides, are children are highly exposed. And though exposure to pesticides has been linked to learning and behavioral problems in children in the past, previous studies have focused on high-risk populations like farm workers. This study was the first to examine the effects of exposure in the population at large.

The solution is obvious. Buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible and especially of the “dirty dozen” - those foods most contaminated with organophosphate pesticides. According to tests by the consumer organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), these would include the following fruits and vegetables.

o Peaches
o Strawberries
o Apples
o Domestic blueberries
o Nectarines
o Cherries
o Imported grapes
o Celery
o Sweet bell peppers
o Spinach
o Kale
o Collard greens
o Potatoes

According to the EWG, the following 15 fruits and vegetables are relatively low in pesticide residues:

o Onions
o Avocado
o Sweet corn (frozen)
o Pineapples
o Mango
o Sweet peas (frozen)
o Asparagus
o Kiwi fruit
o Cabbage
o Eggplant
o Domestic cantaloupe
o Watermelon
o Grapefruit
o Sweet potatoes
o Honeydew melon

Washing and peeling fruits and vegetables and eating a varied diet will further help reduce potential exposure to pesticides. National surveys have also shown that fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets contain less pesticides even those that are not organic.

Author's Bio: 

Sharon Heller, PhD is a developmental psychologist who specializes in books on holistic solutions for anxiety, panic and sensory processing disorder. She is the author of several popular psychology books including "Anxiety: Hidden Causes, Why your anxiety may not be 'all in your head' but from something physical" (Symmetry, 2011) and "Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world" (HarperCollins, 2002). She can be contacted via email at and via her website,