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Secondhand Smoke Can Impact Toddlers' Lifelong Health

The Short of It

A new study links exposure to smoking during toddlerhood to obesity.

The Lowdown

I was shocked to learn that 40 percent of kids worldwide are exposed to secondhand smoke at home.

Now a new study by the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte Justine Research Centre has identified a definitive link between exposure to secondhand smoke during the formative toddler years and childhood obesity. Worse yet, exposure to smoke at a young age can shape a child's health for the rest of his or her life.

"By the age of 10, the children who had been intermittently or continuously exposed to smoke were likely to have waists that were up to 3/5 of an inch wider than their peers. And their BMI scores were likely to be between 0.48 and 0.81 points higher. This prospective association is almost as large as the influence of smoking while pregnant," said lead researcher Professor Linda Pagani in a press release.

Pagani and her team made their conclusions by looking at 2,055 families' data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. Researchers considered information about kids' development, wellbeing, lifestyle, social environment and their behavior.

The Upshot

At first I thought a difference in waist size of 3/5 of an inch seemed negligible. But as Pagani explains, "Early childhood exposure to secondhand smoke could be influencing endocrine imbalances and altering neurodevelopmental functioning at this critical period in hypothalamic development, thus damaging vital systems which undergo important postnatal growth and development until middle childhood, i.e. the period that we've looked at in this study."

In other words, the damage is long-lasting. Pagani also said smoke could have a more damaging effect on kids' bodies verus adults' due to their immature vital systems. She urges more public health initiatives and education that will decrease the number of adults who smoke around kids at home.

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