Smokers 40% more likely to have children with obesity

Amy S. Williams

Amy S. Williams

Parents who smoked had 40% greater odds of having children who were overweight or obese, according to findings recently published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

“I study child obesity in low-income and racial minority families,” Amy S. Williams, MD, MSPH, of the department of family and community medicine at the University of Missouri, told Healio Family Medicine. “The purpose of this study was to try to understand which factors contribute to increased weight in children.”

Researchers reviewed responses from parents of 7,022 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Birth Cohort in kindergarten (aged 4 to 5 years) regarding the child’s sex, weight status at birth, food security, weekly soda consumption, socioeconomic status and race. Researchers also ascertained which parent(s) lived with the child, rules regarding food consumption and television watching, parents’ smoking status, exercise frequency, the number of hours the mother worked weekly, how safe parents thought their neighborhood was and how many times the family ate dinner together weekly.

They found that parental smoking increased the odds of a child being overweight or obese by 40%. Conversely, eating dinner as a family reduced the odds of a child being overweight or obese by 4%. Also, Hispanic or black children had a 60% increased odds and Native American children had almost double the odds of being overweight or obese vs. their white counterparts.

“Socioeconomic status did not change any of these associations,” Williams said in the interview. “This is important because some people assume that the reason some racial and ethnic minority children are more obese than white children is due to socioeconomic status differences, but we didn’t find this to be the case. This has informed our current project to look for other causes of increased weight in black children, including possibly stress from racial discrimination.”

In addition, univariate logistic models showed all the variables tested were significantly and independently linked with the child with children being overweight or obese at kindergarten, except the number of hours the mother worked and the child’s sex. Multivariable logistic regression analysis showed birth weight, not eating together as a family, race and smoking status stayed statistically significantly linked with children being overweight or obese. There was also a significant link of socioeconomic status for children who were overweight or obese vs. with healthy-weight children, and for every 100 g increase in a child’s birth weight, there was a 7% increased risk for the children being overweight or obese.

Williams encouraged primary care physicians to discuss parental smoking and family eating habits with their patients as she further discussed the findings.

“PCPs who discuss these health behaviors with parents could be indirectly also helping to lower the child’s risk for obesity. While we don’t fully understand these relationships, it is possible that by improving the home environment for children in one way, it can affect other health behaviors and risk factors.”

She added that PCPs may need to showcase their innovative side until scientific reasons for the link between increased rates of child obesity in racial, ethnic minority, and low-income families can be found.

“We know that just telling families to eat healthier and exercise more isn’t working. We as physicians and scientists need to find innovative and creative ways to help our families with obesity. The future health of our patients depends on it.” – by Janel Miller

The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.