Published on 17 March 2015

Researchers in the US have reported that mothers who expose their unborn children to tobacco smoke during pregnancy could put the child at risk of developing type 1 or type 2 diabetes in later life.

The study was recently presented at ENDO 2015, the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Diego.

Researchers looked at an adult daughter to study how a foetus exposed to tobacco smoke may be at increased risk of developing type 1 or type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

Mothers who smoke during pregnancy could increase the chances of their child developing diabetes

Women whose parents smoked during pregnancy had increased risk of diabetes independent of known risk factors, adding to the evidence that pre-natal environmental chemical exposures can contribute to adults developing the condition.

Lead study author Michele La Merrill, MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Toxicology at the University of California, said: “From a public health perspective, reduced foetal environmental tobacco smoke exposure appears to be an important modifiable risk factor for diabetes mellitus in offspring.

“Medical doctors should consider advising pregnant smokers that emerging research suggests that stopping tobacco smoking in the home may benefit offspring by reducing their risk of developing type 1 diabetes independent of the effects of adult body mass index or birth weight on diabetes risk.

Dr. La Merrill and her colleagues studied 1,801 daughters with diabetes between the ages of 44 and 54 years who were born between 1959 and 1967 in the Child Health and Development Studies pregnancy cohort in California, a study designed to examine the associations between pre-natal exposures and health outcomes in the parents and offspring.

The researchers had information on parental tobacco smoking during pregnancy, race, occupation, report of parental diabetes and self-report of body weight. They interviewed the daughters by phone, in-home visits and blood tests for glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) to learn how well their diabetes was being controlled.

Pre-natal smoking by the mothers had a stronger association with the daughters’ diabetes risk than pre-natal smoking by the fathers, and this association remained after adjusting for parental race, diabetes, and employment.

Estimates of the effect of parental smoking remained after further adjustments for the daughters’ birth weight or current body mass index.

The authors recommend that, although further studies are needed to confirm these results, pregnant women should avoid smoking tobacco and being around tobacco smoke to help prevent diabetes in their adult children.

For advice on how to stop smoking visit

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