The children of women who smoked while pregnant may be more likely to be obese in their late teenage years, a new study shows.
Researchers found that those who were exposed to cigarette smoke while in the womb had significantly higher quantities of fat than their non-exposed peers once they reached late adolescence.
The exposed teenagers had 33% more intra-abdominal fat and 26% more subcutaneous fat, according to the international team that carried out the study.
Intra-abdominal fat surrounds internal organs, while subcutaneous fat is found directly under the skin.
Zdenka Pausova, one of the study's two principal investigators, said the findings provide another reason for expectant mothers to avoid smoking.
“Animal studies suggest that nicotine given pre-natally could influence certain parts of the brain, including those that control how much and what we eat and how well we burn calories.”
The scientists studied more than 500 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18, half of whom were exposed to maternal cigarette smoke. Those who were exposed weighed about 300 grams less at birth than their peers, were breast-fed for a shorter period of time and were exposed more frequently to second-hand smoke in-utero.
Dr Pausova said: “We found that in late puberty, there was quite a profound difference in adiposity (the accumulation of fat).”
This is thought to be the first study to find that in-utero exposure to cigarette smoke is associated with higher intra-abdominal fat in late puberty.
The research is published in the latest edition of the journal Obesity.