Passive smoking ‘ages children’s arteries’: Exposure means youngsters are at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life
Researchers estimate second-hand smoke in the home adds an extra 3.3 years to the age of blood vessels by the time the children grow up
Children whose parents smoke are at risk of permanent damage to their arteries, researchers have warned.
A study suggests that exposure to both parents smoking leads to thickening of the artery walls, meaning the children will be at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life.
And the researchers estimated that the increased level of second-hand smoke in the home adds an extra 3.3 years to the age of blood vessels by the time the children grow up.
High risk: A study suggests that exposure to parents smoking leads to thickening of the artery walls, meaning the children will be at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life
The study involved 2,401 children from Finland and 1,375 children in Australia, aged between three and 18.
The researchers asked questions about parents smoking habits and they used ultrasound to measure the thickness of the children’s artery walls once they had reached adulthood.
The study is the first to follow children through to adulthood in order to examine the association between exposure to parental smoking and increased carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) – a measurement of the thickness of the innermost two layers of the arterial wall – in adulthood.
The researchers found that carotid IMT in adulthood was 0.015 mm thicker in those exposed to both parents smoking than in those whose parents did not smoke, increasing from an average of 0.637 mm to 0.652 mm.
Dr Seana Gall, a research fellow in cardiovascular epidemiology at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania and the University of Tasmania, said ‘While the differences in artery thickness are modest, it is important to consider that they represent the independent effect of a single measure of exposure – that is, whether or not the parents smoked at the start of the studies – some 20 years earlier in a group already at greater risk of heart disease.
Researchers asked questions about parents smoking habits andused ultrasound to measure the thickness of the children’s artery walls once they had reached adulthood
‘For example, those with both parents smoking were more likely, as adults, to be smokers or overweight than those whose parents didn’t smoke.
‘Our study shows that exposure to passive smoke in childhood causes a direct and irreversible damage to the structure of the arteries.
‘Parents, or even those thinking about becoming parents, should quit smoking. This will not only restore their own health but also protect the health of their children into the future.’
The researchers estimated passive smoking led to an increase of 3.3 years in the age of arteries by the time the children become adults.
They took account of factors such as education, the children’s smoking habits, physical activity, and cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels in adulthood.
The study did not show an effect if only one parent smoked, says a report in the European Heart Journal (must credit).
Dr Gall said ‘We think that the effect was only apparent with both parents smoking because of the greater overall dose of smoke these children were exposed to.
‘We can speculate that the smoking behaviour of someone in a house with a single adult smoking is different.
For example, the parent that smokes might do so outside away from the family, therefore reducing the level of passive smoking.’
Doireann Maddock, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said ‘The negative health effects of passive smoking are well known, but this study goes a step further and shows it can cause potentially irreversible damage to children’s arteries and could increase their risk of heart attack and stroke in later life.
‘If you’re a smoker, the single most effective way of reducing your child’s exposure to passive smoke is for you to quit.
‘Next Wednesday is No Smoking Day when more than a million smokers will all try to quit in the UK’s biggest mass quit attempt, so it’s a great opportunity to help yourself and your children.
‘If this isn’t possible, having a smokefree home and car offers the best alternative to help protect your child from the harmful effects of passive smoke.’