Moms who smoke while pregnant could increase their child’s risk of becoming obese during adolescence. That’s according to a new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry earlier this month.
According to the findings, children born to mothers who smoked while pregnant show structural changes in their brains, which make them more partial to fatty foods and prone to subsequent weight problems, the study found.
“The fact that prenatal smoking is associated with a high risk of obesity in offspring has been known, but the potential mechanism that may lead to this risk was not fully understood,” said study author Dr Zdenka Pausova, a scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
“Our study suggests that maternal smoking may cause structural changes in the part of the brain that processes reward and may increase preference for fatty food.”
However Pausova is clear, more studies are needed to support the findings, since not all mothers who smoke are destined to have obese children, she said.
Babies born to mothers who smoked weighed less at birth. They also generally breastfed for shorter periods of time, and were more likely to weigh more as teens than their peers whose moms did not smoke while pregnant.
We have known that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk for low birth weight babies and preterm delivery,” she said. According to Dr. Lorena Siqueira, director of adolescent medicine at Miami Children’s Hospital, this is one more reason why mothers-to-be should not smoke.
“This needs to be looked at more, as a lot of what we are seeing may be due to access to salty, fatty foods that we all have a taste for, Siqueira said.
Stop smoking campaigners such as Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Great Neck, N.Y., said this new information may help experts tailor quit-smoking messages intended for pregnant women.
“We often counsel these women and tell them that smoking during pregnancy may increase their risk for a low birth weight baby, but they may not appreciate this,” Folan said. Risk of adolescent obesity may resonate more for some women. “We know if we personalize the message, it can help motivate them to make a quit attempt,” she said.
It’s never too late to quit smoking when pregnant, Folan said. “The pregnancy will be improved and you will be more likely to deliver at term without the health risks associated with preterm birth,” she said.