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Secondhand smoke linked to chance of ADHD, learning disabilities in kids

July 11, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Children living in smoking households might be more likely to have learning disabilities or behavioral problems, suggests a new study based on phone interviews with parents across the country.
Children living in smoking households might be more likely to have learning… (Michael Reynolds / EPA )

Here’s another reason not to light up around little ones: Not only are children who are surrounded by secondhand smoke at greater risk for asthma and other health problems, but they may be more likely to have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or learning disabilities too. 

The new analysis comes from a national phone survey in which parents were asked whether they smoked and if they’d been told by a health professional that their child has any of three problems: ADD or ADHD; a learning disability; or a behavioral or conduct problem. Out of the more than 55,000 children under the age of 12 in the analysis, about 6% of the children were exposed to secondhand smoke, corresponding to about 4.8 million children nationwide.

Researchers, led by the Harvard School of Public Health, found that children in a smoking home had a 50% greater likelihood of having at least two of the three disorders. Boys were at higher risk than girls. And the researchers estimate that 274,100 such disabilities could have been prevented if the children were not exposed to secondhand smoke. The full results were published online Monday in Pediatrics. 

The study doesn’t prove that secondhand smoke causes neurological and behavioral disabilities. Though the authors took factors like poverty status, race and the mother’s education into account, the authors acknowledge other variables, like whether the mothers smoked during pregnancy, could confound the results. And it’s difficult to know how accurately parents answered questions over the phone.

But other studies have hinted at the link between mental health disorders and secondhand smoke. A study in April found a link between ADHD symptoms in children and teens and blood levels of a nicotine byproduct. Still, the symptoms didn’t add up to a single diagnosis that could be linked to secondhand smoke.

Here’s what the authors conclude in their paper:

“These health and economic burdens might be reduced significantly if voluntary smoke-free home policies are vigorously encouraged. Nevertheless, additional evidence is warranted in additional population settings for entirely evidence-based health policy decision making.”

As if there weren’t enough evidence that smoking around children is a poor idea.

healthkey@tribune.com

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