Mothers who smoke during pregnancy may be giving their children an unexpected health issue — the likelihood that they will develop obesity later in life.
That’s according to a study by University of Kentucky researchers, who have identified a potential cellular mechanism that connects the two.
Kevin Pearson, the study’s principal investigator, said in a release that “it has been consistently shown that mothers who smoke during pregnancy confer increased risk of obesity to their baby, but the mechanisms responsible for this increase are not well understood.”
A total of 65 new mothers were recruited for the study. All of the infants were full-term, with around half of all the new mothers smoking during their pregnancies.
Results of the study showed that smoking in pregnancy “could be leading to changes in the regulation of the genes that play an important role in fat cell development and, by extension, obesity.”
Because the tissue studied was taken from the foreskin of circumcised males, the next step is to reproduce the finding in female offspring, according to the release. Pearson and his fellow researchers propose to use cells from umbilical cords to do so.
The hope is that results “could provide a springboard for the development of effective treatments against pediatric and adult obesity in babies born to smokers as well as those exposed to other in utero environmental exposures.”