Diabetes More Likely in Offspring of Smokers

February 25, 2015

Children with in utero exposure to cigarette smoke from mom or dad's smoking habit are predisposed to diabetes in adulthood.

If more data is needed to convince pregnant women, and their partners, to quit smoking, a new study suggests there is a link between tobacco exposure in utero and diabetes.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the Berkeley nonprofit Public Health Institute say their work shows that children exposed to cigarette smoke while in the womb are predisposed to diabetes developing in adulthood.

Key Points:

- Women who smoke during pregnancy are placing their unborn children at increased risk for diabetes developing in adulthood.

- A parent who smokes during a pregnancy is an independent risk factor for diabetes later in life, irrespective of birth weight or BMI in adulthood.

The study found that women whose mothers smoked while pregnant were two to three times more likely to have diabetes as adults. When dad lights up during the pregnancy, there was also an increase in diabetes among their grown daughters. The connection to dad’s smoking, however, was not as strong as the link to mom’s smoking, said the authors, indicating that more research is needed to establish the extent of the risk of exposure from fathers who smoke.

"Our findings are consistent with the idea that gestational environmental chemical exposures can contribute to the development of health and disease," said lead author Michele La Merrill, PhD, in a statement.

The correlation between smoking and diabetes was found by analyzing data from 1,800 daughters of women who had participated in the Child Health and Development Studies, which is an ongoing project of the Public Health Institute. The study did not establish actual causation but is yet another data point showing the lingering harm of smoking during pregnancy.

"We found that smoking of parents is by itself a risk factor for diabetes, independent of obesity or birth weight," said La Merrill. "If a parent smokes, you're not protected from diabetes just because you're lean."

The study was published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.