Children's mouthing and food-handling behavior in an agricultural community on the US/Mexico border

Kathleen Black*, Stuart L. Shalat, Natalie C.G. Freeman, Marta Jimenez, Kirby C. Donnelly, James A. Calvin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Children's mouthing and food-handling activities were measured during a study of nondietary ingestion of pesticides in a south Texas community. Mouthing data on 52 children, ranging in age from 7 to 53 months, were collected using questionnaires and videotaping. Data on children's play and hand-washing habits were also collected. Children were grouped into four age categories: infants (7-12 months), 1-year-olds (13-24 months), 2-year-olds (25-36 months) and preschoolers (37-53 months). The frequency and type of events prompting hand washing did not vary by age category except for hand washing after using the bathroom; this increased with increasing age category. Reported contact with grass and dirt also increased with increasing age category. The median hourly hand-to-mouth frequency for the four age groups ranged from 9.9 to 19.4, with 2-year-olds having the lowest frequency and preschoolers having the highest. The median hourly object to mouth frequency ranged from 5.5 to 18.1 across the four age categories; the frequency decreased as age increased (adjusted R 2 = 0.179; P = 0.003). The median hourly hand-to-food frequency for the four age groups ranged from 10.0 to 16.1, with the highest frequency being observed in the 1-year-olds. Hand-to-mouth frequency was associated with food contact frequency, particularly for children over 12 months of age (adjusted R2 = 0.291; P = 0.002). The frequency and duration of hand-to-mouth, object-to-mouth and food-handling behaviors were all greater indoors than outdoors. Infants were more likely to remain indoors than children in other age groups. The time children spent playing on the floor decreased with increasing age (adjusted R2 = 0.096; P = 0.031). Parental assessment was correlated with hand-to-mouth activity but not with object-to-mouth activity. The highest combined (hand and object) mouthing rates were observed among infants, suggesting that this age group has the greatest potential for exposure to environmental toxins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-251
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Border
  • Children
  • Food handling
  • Hispanic
  • Mouthing behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Toxicology
  • General Environmental Science
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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