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About Sickkids
About SickKids

September 6, 2012

Pregnant smokers’ children may be drawn to fatty foods

In a study led by The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), researchers show how smoking during pregnancy may increase the risk of adolescent obesity for your child.  They suggest that prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke may lead to subtle structural changes in the developing fetus’ brain that, in turn, may increase a preference for more fatty foods later in life. The study is published in the September 3 advance online edition of Archives of General Psychiatry.

Dr. Zdenka Pausova, Principal Investigator of the study and Scientist in Physiology & Experimental Medicine at SickKids first identified the relationship between maternal smoking and child obesity in a 2010 study. “We took this study a step further and explored some potential underlying mechanisms at play by examining the children’s diet and structural variations in brain regions that processes reward.”

The research team examined 378 adolescents age 13 to 19 years. Participants were grouped as exposed to maternal smoking or non-exposed to maternal smoking and did not differ by sex, age, puberty stage or height. The authors defined ‘exposed’ as having a mother who smoked more than one cigarette a day during the second trimester of pregnancy, and ‘non-exposed’ as having a mother who did not smoke at least one year before (and throughout) the pregnancy.

Participants who had been exposed to smoking during pregnancy exhibited significantly lower volumes of amydala but a higher total body fat and fat intake then non-exposed participants. Researchers suggest that exposure to prenatal cigarette smoke may reduce amygdala volume and, perhaps, through this effect increase the individual’s intake of fat and risk for obesity.

This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Heart & Stroke Foundation of Quebec, Canadian Foundation for Innovation and SickKids Foundation.