The study was published late this summer and looked at data involving more than 55,000 children under the age of 12 that were part of the 2007 National Survey on Children’s Health. Of these kids, researchers found six percent lived with smokers and of these children, eight percent of them had learning disabilities, six percent had ADHD, and nearly four percent had behavioral and conduct disorders - such as bullying or oppositional defiance. The more alarming fact revealed in the study was that many of the kids had more than one problem.
“We found that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke in the home have a 50 percent increase in odds of having two or three of these common neurobehavioral disorders,” Alpert stated in an interview with WebMD.
Although researchers are not sure why the smoke triggers these problems, when compared to non-smoking homes the evidence was overwhelming. The study showed more than 274,000 excess cases of these disorders could be prevented if kids hadn’t been exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes.
Dr. Olivia Wenger MD, an area pediatrician, found the study very interesting but wonders if the parents in the study smoke due to anxiety or ADHD conditions themselves, which could be genetically passed on to their child.
“This study is the most recent I’ve seen to suggest a relationship between behavioral disorders like ADHD in children who come from smoking households,” she said. “The study doesn’t say anything to address the question of whether people who smoke do it because they are more prone to anxiety/ADHD themselves. What I’m saying is that a parent might have started smoking because they were anxious or hyper and self-medicate with nicotine. There might a genetic component to risk for ADHD that the study misses.”
Wenger agreed that secondhand smoke causes health risks and issues for children and encourages parents to not expose their children to smoke at all.
“Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke have more ear infections, worse colds, and a higher risk of asthma compared to children who live in smoke free households,” Wenger said. “Pediatricians have also found that babies whose parents smoke in the home are more likely to die from crib death (SIDS). If you cannot quit smoking, going outside to smoke does help if you change your clothes when you come back into the house. Most people do want to quit smoking but quitting is hard work.”
Wenger also mentioned a study found in the October issue of Pediatrics that suggest watching fast-paced television shows and cartoons may impact a child’s working memory and attentiveness.
“In this study the toddlers that watched educational TV were more attentive, with better working memory than the tots who had watched fast-paced TV,” she said. “Pediatricians and family doctors recommend less than an hour of media time for preschoolers per day. That means an hour total of Wii, games, computer time, and TV only.”
In addition to studies that suggest television and secondhand smoke as culprits for behavioral and learning issues, Wenger said she has to wonder if parenting and social skills aren’t partially to blame.
“I have to wonder if we are seeing a rise in behavioral problems because so many kids today are forced to deal with the fact that grownups aren’t very good at working together,” Wenger said. “If Mommy and Daddy can’t even figure out how to live and love in mutual respect, wouldn’t that put a kid under a lot of stress? We are good at giving kids clothes and food and the latest gadgets, but not at modeling how to work together.”
Studies are always interesting to consider. Obviously secondhand smoke is not healthy for anyone and too many hours spent in front of a television or other screen can impact a child’s learning. But perhaps Wenger is on to something…maybe turning off the TV and modeling a good example of problem solving and mutual respect for one another is the best bet at this point.
Published: October 31, 2011