Children Exposed to Smoking While in the Womb at Greater Risk of Diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on March 17, 2015

Children exposed to tobacco smoke from their parents while in the womb are predisposed to developing diabetes as adults, according to a new scientific study.

A team from the University of California, Davis, and the Berkeley non-profit Public Health Institute found that women whose mothers smoked while pregnant were two to three times as likely to be diabetic as adults.

SmokingDads who smoked while their daughter was in utero also contributed to an increased diabetes risk for their child, but more research is needed to establish the extent of that risk.

‘Our findings are consistent with the idea that gestational environmental chemical exposures can contribute to the development of health and disease,’ said lead author Michele La Merrill, an assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis.

The study analysed data from 1,800 daughters of women who had participated in the Child Health and Development Studies, an ongoing project of the Public Health Institute. The CHDS recruited women who sought obstetric care through Kaiser Permanente Foundation Health Plan in the San Francisco Bay Area between 1959 and 1967. The data was originally collected by PHI to study early risk of breast cancer, which is why sons were not considered in this current study.

In previous studies, foetal exposure to cigarette smoke has also been linked to higher rates of obesity and low birth weight. This study found that birth weight did not affect whether the daughters of smoking parents developed diabetes.

The researchers had data on parental tobacco smoking during pregnancy, race, occupation, report of parental diabetes and self report of body weight. They interviewed the daughters by phone, in home visits and blood tests for glycated haemoglobin to learn how well their diabetes was being controlled.

Prenatal smoking by the mothers had a stronger association with the daughters’ diabetes risk than prenatal smoking by the fathers, and this association remained after adjusting for parental race, diabetes, and employment.

Estimates of the effect of parental smoking remained after further adjustments for the daughters’ birth weight or current body mass index.

‘We found that smoking of parents is by itself a risk factor for diabetes, independent of obesity or birth weight. If a parent smokes, you’re not protected from diabetes just because you’re lean,’ explained La Merrill.

She pointed out that from a public health perspective, reduced foetal environmental tobacco smoke exposure appears to be an important modifiable risk factor for diabetes in offspring.

‘Medical doctors should consider advising pregnant smokers that emerging research suggests that tobacco smoking cessation in the home may benefit offspring by reducing their risk of developing diabetes independent of the effects of adult body mass index or birth weight on diabetes risk,’ she added.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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