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Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Linked to Obesity, Poor Cognition in Children

A new study finds even more reasons why parents' smoking is detrimental to their children's health.

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We know secondhand smoke is bad for children, but perhaps not for the reasons a new study out of the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University has brought to light. Researchers say exposure is linked to kids having a larger waist and poorer cognition.

To reach their startling conclusions, researchers looked at so-called passive smoke exposure in 220 overweight or obese kids between the ages of 7 and 11, both through parental reports and testing blood levels for the presence of cotinine, the major metabolite of nicotine. Kids who were exposed to smoking had bigger bellies and more overall body fat. Their cognition also proved poorer on all fronts, from attention span to classroom grades and performance on standardized tests.

The study, which is published in the journal Childhood Obesity, is concerning on many levels. One is that we already know overweight kids have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But obesity has also been linked to decreased cognition. Now it seems secondhand smoke exposure only exacerbates that risk.

"All the bad things fat does to us, passive smoking makes worse," said study co-author Dr. Martha S. Tingen, Charles W. Linder, M.D. Endowed Chair in Pediatrics at MCG and director of the Tobacco Control Program at the Cancer Center at Augusta University. "We are talking about a recipe for an unhealthy child who becomes an unhealthy adult who cannot reach their full potential."

Tingen reminds parents that kids aren't able to protect themselves against smoke exposure. "If you are breathing in secondhand smoke, it's almost as bad as if you were smoking the cigarette yourself."

Researchers hope this study will encourage interventions emphasizing the importance of proper nutrition, physical activity, and the adverse effects of tobacco use.

The takeaway: Smoking around kids may negatively impact them for the rest of their lives. Beyond what this research points out, one has to imagine kids who see their parents smoking may pick up the habit themselves, continuing the vicious cycle of poor health outcomes. The bottom line is that smoking is bad, and there's just no way around that reality.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.