In the JournalsPerspective

Maternal smoking increases obesogenic eating behaviors in offspring

Maternal nicotine dependence may be a “transdiagnostic risk factor” that can predict obesogenic eating behaviors in offspring such as child food responsiveness and emotional overeating, according to findings published in Pediatric Obesity.

“Evidence is building that rewarding aspects of addictive substances overlap with those of processed foods high in refined carbohydrates and fat — foods that are now widely available in the ‘toxic’ food environment and that promote obesogenic eating,” Jenna R. Cummings, PhD, a research fellow in the department of psychology at the University of Michigan, and colleagues wrote in the study background. “Thus, children of parents (especially mothers) who smoke may also be vulnerable to obesogenic eating.”

In an archival data analysis, Cummings and colleagues evaluated data from 50 children recruited from the Head Start program who participated in four waves of the Appetite, Behavior and Cortisol study at age 4, 6, 8 and 10 years. At wave four, caretakers reported on nicotine dependence; the study’s final sample was restricted to children who had a mother who reported nicotine dependence. Maternal nicotine dependence was assessed with the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence, which measures current symptoms of substance use disorder specific to smoking. Child eating behavior was assessed with the 35-item Child Eating Behavior Questionnaire.

After adjusting for child age, child biological sex and family incometoneeds ratio, researchers found that more severe maternal nicotine dependence was associated with greater increases in child food responsiveness measurements (P = .014) and emotional overeating (P = .024) across 6 years. Researchers did not observe any associations between maternal nicotine dependence and decreases in child emotion undereating, satiety responsiveness and desire to drink during 6 years of follow-up.

“Maternal nicotine dependence may be a transdiagnostic risk factor that identifies children at risk for reward-driven, obesogenic eating behavior,” the researchers wrote. “Future research should identify the precise mechanisms by which this occurs.” – by Regina Schaffer

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

Maternal nicotine dependence may be a “transdiagnostic risk factor” that can predict obesogenic eating behaviors in offspring such as child food responsiveness and emotional overeating, according to findings published in Pediatric Obesity.

“Evidence is building that rewarding aspects of addictive substances overlap with those of processed foods high in refined carbohydrates and fat — foods that are now widely available in the ‘toxic’ food environment and that promote obesogenic eating,” Jenna R. Cummings, PhD, a research fellow in the department of psychology at the University of Michigan, and colleagues wrote in the study background. “Thus, children of parents (especially mothers) who smoke may also be vulnerable to obesogenic eating.”

In an archival data analysis, Cummings and colleagues evaluated data from 50 children recruited from the Head Start program who participated in four waves of the Appetite, Behavior and Cortisol study at age 4, 6, 8 and 10 years. At wave four, caretakers reported on nicotine dependence; the study’s final sample was restricted to children who had a mother who reported nicotine dependence. Maternal nicotine dependence was assessed with the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence, which measures current symptoms of substance use disorder specific to smoking. Child eating behavior was assessed with the 35-item Child Eating Behavior Questionnaire.

After adjusting for child age, child biological sex and family incometoneeds ratio, researchers found that more severe maternal nicotine dependence was associated with greater increases in child food responsiveness measurements (P = .014) and emotional overeating (P = .024) across 6 years. Researchers did not observe any associations between maternal nicotine dependence and decreases in child emotion undereating, satiety responsiveness and desire to drink during 6 years of follow-up.

“Maternal nicotine dependence may be a transdiagnostic risk factor that identifies children at risk for reward-driven, obesogenic eating behavior,” the researchers wrote. “Future research should identify the precise mechanisms by which this occurs.” – by Regina Schaffer

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

    Perspective

    Cummings and colleagues found that maternal smoking was associated with an increase in obesogenic eating behaviors in offspring. The obesogenic eating behaviors included child food responsiveness, measured by appetitive drive and food cue responsiveness, and emotional overeating, measured by eating more in response to a negative event. The biological mechanism behind this finding might be that mothers who smoke may expose children to nicotine prenatally and during lactation, which may alter motivational drivers for high‐fat foods, as shown in animal studies. The public health implication is that to establish healthy eating behaviors in offspring, mothers should not smoke.  

    However, the findings of this study need to be interpreted with caution. First, although an association was found for an increase obesogenic eating behaviors, maternal nicotine dependence was not associated with average obesogenic eating behaviors in children aged at least 6 years. Thus, whether this study might be a chance finding needs further exploration. Second, the time window of maternal smoking is not specified. It is not known whether it is maternal smoking before pregnancy, during pregnancy or during the offspring's childhood. Third, as the authors wrote, mothers who smoke may have lower socioeconomic status and experience greater family stress, and they may provide a poor diet to children and promote obesogenic eating, which might confound the association observed in this study.

    • Ming Ding, BM, ScD
    • Research Associate
      Department of Nutrition
      Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

    Disclosures: Ding reports no relevant financial disclosures.