Exposure to secondhand smoke is associated with a larger waist and poorer cognition in children, an Augusta University study has found.
Researchers looked at passive smoke exposure in 220 overweight or obese boys and girls, ages 7 to 11, at schools in the Augusta area. They found that smoke exposure was associated with nearly all measures of adiposity, or body fat, in the children, including bigger bellies and overall fat.
“And every single one of our cognitive measures was poorer in the smoke-exposed children,” said Catherine Davis, clinical health psychologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, and the lead author of the study, published in the journal Childhood Obesity.
“The take-home message,” she said, “is that for these children, smoke exposure was connected to two major adverse health outcomes, one above the neck and one below the neck.”
Recent data show that 17 percent of Georgia adults smoke. More than 40 percent of children are exposed to at least one parent who smokes, the study says.
Davis said 28 percent of the children in the study were already pre-diabetic, but that the incidence was actually slightly higher in the children who were not exposed to second-hand smoke.
Previous studies, which often relied solely on parents’ reports of smoke exposure, have produced inconclusive findings about the relationship between passive smoke and obesity, the researchers said.
Davis noted about a 25 percent discrepancy in their study between what parents reported and what a blood analysis showed. The largest discrepancy was in parents reporting there was not a smoker in the home while the children’s blood showed smoke exposure.
But on the other hand, there were also 18 children whose blood showed no evidence of smoke exposure, even though their parents reported a smoker in the home.
“If you are breathing in secondhand smoke, it’s almost as bad as if you were smoking the cigarette yourself,” said Martha S. Tingen, director of the Tobacco Control Program at the Cancer Center at Augusta University. Immediate effects include a lowering of the protective cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, and an increase in the disease-producing low-density lipoprotein, or LDL.
About 480,000 premature deaths occur in the United States annually related to tobacco use, with nearly 42,000 of those in nonsmokers due to passive smoke exposure, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Davis pointed out the need for children to be outside and exercising frequently, whether or not there is tobacco smoke inside their residence.
“Children need fresh air,’’ she said. “Indoor air is very polluted actually, even without smoke.”
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the East Georgia Cancer Coalition.
Here’s a link to a video interview with Davis, courtesy of Augusta University.