New research suggests how smoking during pregnancy may increase a child’s risk of obesity during adolescence.
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.”
Still, more study is needed to validate the findings, she said. Not all mothers who smoke are destined to have obese children, she added. Smoking during pregnancy is one of many factors that may tip the scales in favor of teenage obesity.
The new study, published online Sept. 3 in the Archives of General Psychiatry, included 378 adolescents aged 13 to 19. Of these, 180 kids had mothers who smoked more than one cigarette a day during the second trimester of pregnancy. The average was 11 cigarettes a day.
As expected, babies born to mothers who smoked weighed less at birth. They also tended to be breast-fed for shorter periods of time, and were more likely to weigh more as teens than their peers whose moms did not smoke while pregnant.