Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
Boys who start smoking before age 11–very young smokers–are far more likely to have sons who battle weight and obesity issues, according to a new British study. The finding puts emphasis on a growing body of research supporting the idea that childhood habits can affect the health of offspring years down the line. More from Reuters:
The scientists said the findings, part of ongoing work in a larger “Children of the 90s” study, could indicate that exposure to tobacco smoke before the start of puberty in men may lead to metabolic changes in the next generation.
“This discovery of transgenerational effects has big implications for research into the current rise in obesity and the evaluation of preventative measures,” said Marcus Pembrey, a professor of genetics at University College London, who led the study and presented its findings at a briefing on Wednesday.
Smoking rates in Britain and some other parts of Europe are on the decline, but worldwide, almost one billion men smoke – about 35 percent of men in developed countries and 50 percent in developing ones, according to the World Health Organization.
While previous studies in animals and in people have found some transgenerational health impacts, the evidence so far is limited. It points, however, to epigenetics – a process where lifestyle and environmental factors can turn certain genes on or off – having an effect on the health of descendants.
Pembrey said his team’s research was prompted in part by signals from earlier Swedish studies that linked how plentiful a paternal ancestor’s food supply was in mid childhood with future death rates in grandchildren.
For the new study, published in the European Journal of Human Genetics, the researchers had access to detailed lifestyle, genetic and other health data from 9,886 fathers.
Of these, 5,376, or 54 percent, were smokers at some time and of those, 166, or 3 percent, said they had started smoking regularly before the age of 11.
Looking at the next generation, the team found that at age 13, 15 and 17, the sons of men who started smoking before 11 had the highest Body Mass Index (BMI) scores compared with the sons of men who had started smoking later or who had never smoked.
“These boys had markedly higher levels of fat mass – ranging from an extra five kilograms (kg) to 10kg between ages 13 and 17,” the study said.
Although it was there, the effect was not seen to the same degree in daughters.
Image: Young man smoking, via Shutterstock
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Friday, March 28th, 2014
Cases of premature births and asthma-related hospital visits dropped 10 percent since the introduction of public smoking bans across North American and Europe. Data of 11 recent studies where compiled to determine the overall impact of smoke-free legislation. The studies included more than 2.5 million births and about 250,000 hospital visits for asthma attacks. According to the study, 40 percent of children worldwide are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke. More from Brigham and Women’s Hospital:
In the first comprehensive study to look at how anti-smoking laws are affecting the health of children, researchers from University of Edinburgh collaborated with researchers from Maastricht University, Hasselt University, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis examining the effect of smoke-free legislation on child health. They found that the introduction of new laws that ban smoking in public places in North America and Europe has been followed by a decrease in rates of premature births and hospital visits for asthma attacks in children. These findings are published on March 28, 2014 in The Lancet.
Researchers analyzed 11 studies conducted in North America and Europe that included more than 2.5 million births and approximately 250,000 asthma-related hospital visits. They report that while the impact of anti-smoking laws varies between countries, the overall impact on child health is very positive. Specifically, the data show that rates of both preterm birth and hospital admissions for asthma were reduced by 10 percent following the implementation of laws that prohibited smoking in public places.
“This research has demonstrated the very considerable potential that smoke-free legislation offers to reduce preterm births and childhood asthma attacks. The many countries that are yet to enforce smoke-free legislation should in the light of these findings reconsider their positions on this important health policy question,” said Aziz Sheikh, senior author and a physician-researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, visiting professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Primary Care Research and Development at The University of Edinburgh.
According to information in the article, 16 percent of the world’s population is covered by smoke-free laws, while 40 percent of children worldwide are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke. Laws that prohibit smoking in public places, such as bars, restaurants and work places, are already proven to protect adults from the health threats associated with passive smoking, but research to date has not systematically evaluated the impact of smoking bans on children.
Passive smoking can cause babies to be stillborn or born prematurely and is linked to certain birth defects, asthma and lung infections. Studies have also suggested that being exposed to second hand smoke during childhood may have long term health implications, contributing to the development of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes in later life.
Lead researcher, Dr Jasper Been of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Population Health Sciences said, “Our research shows that smoking bans are an effective way to protect the health of our children.
These findings should help to accelerate the introduction of anti-smoking legislation in areas not currently protected.”
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Image: Smoking endangers the health of the child via Shutterstock.
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Monday, March 17th, 2014
Pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke face a higher risk of suffering a miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal death–as high a risk, in fact, as if the women had smoked during pregnancy themselves. More from Reuters on a new study published in the journal Tobacco Control:
“We often think of the diseases that secondhand smoke causes as diseases of older people,” epidemiologist Andrew Hyland told Reuters Health. “The results of this study show that secondhand smoke can affect even unborn babies.”
Hyland led the study at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. He and his colleagues found the pregnancy risks associated with women’s secondhand smoke exposure were almost as high as the risks related to their own cigarette smoking.
The study was the first to investigate the effects of secondhand smoke using quantified, lifetime exposure levels. The analysis arms clinicians like Dr. Maurice Druzin, from Stanford University Medical Center in California, with facts to try to persuade expectant fathers and others living with pregnant women to refrain from smoking at home.
“This is excellent ammunition for us to emphasize what we’ve known for a long time, but now we’ve got data to support it,” Druzin, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.
“This is the first study that shows that secondhand smoke has the same effect as being a primary smoker,” he said. “That is a game changer.”
Hyland’s team used data from a study of 80,762 women between the ages of 50 and 79 years old. Researchers asked the women about their own smoking and the amount of secondhand smoke they were exposed to as children and adults, as well as about their history of pregnancy problems.
Among women who never smoked themselves, the chances of having a stillbirth were 22 percent higher for those who were exposed to any tobacco smoke than for unexposed women. That was after the researchers took into account other potential contributors, including women’s weight, education and alcohol drinking.
For women who were exposed to the highest lifelong levels of secondhand smoke, the risk of having a stillbirth was even greater – 55 percent higher than among unexposed women.
The researchers defined the highest level of exposure to secondhand smoke as at least 10 years of exposure during childhood, at least 20 years during adulthood and at least 10 years in the workplace.
At that level, a woman’s risk of a tubal ectopic pregnancy was 61 percent higher than among unexposed women, and her risk of a miscarriage was 17 percent higher.
“We’re not talking about an elevated risk of a rare event,” Hyland said of the miscarriage finding. “We’re talking about something that happens all the time.”
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Image: Man smoking near pregnant woman, via Shutterstock
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Friday, March 7th, 2014
Young people who start smoking by using e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine but no tobacco tar or smoke, are more likely to eventually smoke real cigarettes–and less likely to quit smoking altogether than those who do not use e-cigarettes, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics. The New York Times has more on the study, which is getting a divided response from experts:
The study’s lead author, Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who has been critical of the devices, said the results suggested that e-cigarettes, whose use is growing rapidly among youth and adults, were leading to less quitting, not more.
“The use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents,” the study concluded. It was published online in JAMA Pediatrics on Thursday.
But other experts said the data did not support that interpretation. . They said that just because e-cigarettes are being used by youths who smoke more and have a harder time quitting does not mean that the devices themselves are the cause of those problems. It is just as possible, they said, that youths who use the devices were heavier smokers to begin with or would have become heavy smokers.
“The data in this study do not allow many of the broad conclusions that it draws,” said Thomas J. Glynn, a researcher at the American Cancer Society.
The study is likely to further stir the debate over what electronic cigarettes mean for the nation’s 45 million smokers, three million of whom are adolescents. Some experts worry that e-cigarettes is a gateway to smoking real cigarettes for young people, though most say the data is too skimpy to settle the issue. Others hope the devices could be a path to quitting.
So far, the overwhelming majority of young people who use e-cigarettes also smoke real cigarettes, a large federal survey published last year found.
Still, while e-cigarette use among youth doubled from 2011 to 2012, cigarette smoking for youth has continued to decline. The smoking rate hit a record low in 2013 of 9.6 percent, down by two-thirds from its peak in 1997.
The new study drew on broad federal survey data from more than 17,000 middle school and high school students in 2011 and more than 22,000 in 2012. But instead of following the same students over time – which many experts say is crucial to determine whether there has been a progression from e-cigarettes to actual smoking — the study examined two different groups of students, essentially creating two snapshots.
Image: Teen smoking e-cigarette, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Teens who smoke cigarettes–even those who don’t smoke “heavily,” can quickly alter their brain structure in ways that were previously thought to be reserved for long-time smokers. These are the findings of a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, which found that smoking one pack of cigarettes or less each day can lead to brain patterns that lock people into dependence on nicotine. More from Time.com:
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[Edythe] London and her colleagues focused on a brain region called the insula, since previous studies in animal and adults showed that its size and volume were affected by smoking. Of the regions in the cortical, or memory, awareness and language parts of the brain, the insula contains the most receptors for nicotine. The region is responsible for decision-making and helping to establish a person’s conscious awareness of his internal state. In studies of stroke patients, smokers who lost function of the right insula in the stroke quit smoking, and reported feeling no cravings for nicotine. And in earlier studies London’s team conducted, they found a strong relationship between how much smokers who watched videos of people smoking experienced cravings for cigarettes and the activity of the insula, which lit up on PET scans.
When London’s team looked at the brains of the 18 smoking teens and 24 non-smoking adolescents, aged 16 to 21 years, using structural MRI, they found no differences overall in the insula region. But a closer examination revealed that the right insula of the smokers was thinner than those of the nonsmokers.
“The brain is still undergoing development when someone is in their late teens,” she says. “It’s possible that smoking during this period could have effects that could alter tobacco dependence later in life, and that the insult could alter the trajectory of brain development.”
While the study doesn’t establish whether the differences in the insula can lead to smoking, or is the result of smoking, London says it highlights the role that the brain region may play in how people respond to nicotine and cigarettes. “I think this is very exciting because it points to a vulnerability, a potential vulnerability factor either to become nicotine dependent or for the effects of smoking to ultimately alter the trajectory of brain development,” she says. That trajectory could affect not only smoking behavior but decision-making in general, since the insula is important in such assessments.