Secondhand smoke linked to ADHD, learning and behavioral disorders in kids

The latest study shows that secondhand (passive) smoke can contribute to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other learning disabilities in children. The study from the Harvard School of Public Health, shows kids exposed to smoking were 50 percent more likely to develop neurobiological diseases compared to kids not around smoke. Researchers estimate five million children under 12 are exposed to secondhand smoking in the home. About 275,000 of those children suffer from learning disabilities, ADHD, or other disorders. Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of respiratory problems, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome and ear ailments they add.

The study from the American Academy of Pediatrics in the journal Pediatrics, looks at how exposure can affect their brains. Dr. Kerry Gateley, director of the Central Virginia Health Department, said there's lots of evidence that second hand smoke affects babies in the womb but this is one of the first to show that there may be an affect on the growing brains of children too.  However, he also said it's not definitive. He said, “This certainly is not a thing where if you've smoked around your child... your child is going to develop ADHD.  There's no where near that strength of association.” Still, Dr. Gateley said exposing kids to second hand smoke is just an unnecessary risk.

“We found that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke in the home have increased odds of 50 percent of having two or three…common neurobehavioral disorders,” says researcher Hillel Alpert, ScM, at the Harvard School of Public Health. Researchers examined a 2007 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention telephone survey of families which included 55,358 children under the age of twelve, 6 percent of which were exposed to secondhand smoke in the home. A telephone survey queried parents whether a doctor or teacher had noticed ADHD or any other behavioral issue in the child, whether or not the child had received counseling and if anyone smoked in the home. Results showed that approximately 8 percent of the children had learning disabilities, 6 percent had ADHD and about 4 percent had behavioral issues. Even after factors such as the parent’s educational and economic status were taken into account, it was still apparent that children who lived in homes with smokers were more likely to suffer from at least two behavioral-related conditions.

The annual medical cost associated with treating a child with a neurobehavioral disorder is about $14,500 a year, totaling about $9.2 billion each year.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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