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Frequency of mouthing behavior in young children


Young children may be more likely than adults to be exposed to pesticides following a residential application as a result of hand- and object-to-mouth contacts in contaminated areas. However, relatively few studies have specifically evaluated mouthing behavior in children less than 5 years of age. Previously unpublished data collected by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) were analyzed to assess the mouthing behavior of 72 children (37 males/35 females). Total mouthing behavior data included the daily frequency of both mouth and tongue contacts with hands, other body parts, surfaces, natural objects, and toys. Eating events were excluded. Children ranged in age from 11 to 60 months. Observations for more than 1 day were available for 78% of the children. The total data set was disaggregated by gender into five age groups (10–20, 20–30, 30–40, 40–50, 50–60 months). Statistical analyses of the data were then undertaken to determine if significant differences existed among the age/gender subgroups in the sample. A mixed effects linear model was used to test the associations among age, gender, and mouthing frequencies. Subjects were treated as random and independent, and intrasubject variability was accounted for with an autocorrelation function. Results indicated that there was no association between mouthing frequency and gender. However, a clear relationship was observed between mouthing frequency and age. Using a tree analysis, two distinct groups could be identified: children ≤24 and children >24 months of age. Children ≤24 months exhibited the highest frequency of mouthing behavior with 81±7 events/h (mean±SE) (n=28 subjects, 69 observations). Children >24 months exhibited the lowest frequency of mouthing behavior with 42±4 events/h (n=44 subjects, 117 observations). These results suggest that children are less likely to place objects into their mouths as they age. These changes in mouthing behavior as a child ages should be accounted for when assessing aggregate exposure to pesticides in the residential environment.

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The authors thank Scott Davis and Dana K. Mirick for sharing the data from their study, as well as insightful comments on the manuscript. This work has been funded wholly by the US Environmental Protection Agency under EPA Cooperative Agreement CR 816334-01 to the FHCRC. It has been subjected to agency review and approved for presentation and publication. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

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Correspondence to NICOLLE S TULVE.

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TULVE, N., SUGGS, J., MCCURDY, T. et al. Frequency of mouthing behavior in young children. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 12, 259–264 (2002).

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