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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 00:04 GMT
Pregnant smokers' legacy of diabetes
Pregnancy scan
Smoking may lead to foetal malnutrition
Women who smoke during pregnancy are likely to expose their children to the risk of diabetes and obesity in later life, according to research.

Young adults who smoke are also more likely to be at increased risk of diabetes, the survey suggests.

However, a leading British expert says the link has not been fully proved by this study.

The Swedish authors used British data on about 17,000 births during March 1958 to conduct their study.

At birth, midwives collected information on smoking during pregnancy (after four months).

I would agree it's further reason to discourage women from smoking during pregnancy

Dr John Wilding, University of Liverpool
Details of maternal smoking were again recorded in 1974.

The group's own smoking behaviour was recorded during an interview at age 16.

The offspring were interviewed about diabetes when they were 33.

Among those followed fully throughout childhood and adolescence to age 33, the authors identified 15 men and 13 women who had developed diabetes between 16 and 33 years and 602 who were obese at age 33.

The conditions are rare in this age group and although relatively few of the group as a whole were affected, the incidence level was still a third more than doctors would have normally expected.

The authors of the report, which appears in the British Medical Journal, say the association of diabetes with maternal smoking specifically during pregnancy, suggest it is a true risk factor for type two diabetes, which emerges in adulthood.

The survey also found study members without diabetes, but whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, were significantly more likely to be obese or overweight by age 33 years.

The charity Diabetes UK believes the report's findings are significant.

Smoke damage

A spokesman said: "The number of people who developed diabetes is unusually high.

"It is not known exactly what causes diabetes, only that it is partially genetic and partially environmental factors.

"It is likely a combination of factors will be involved.

"The suggested link between smoking during pregnancy and obesity of the offspring is also important because being overweight is known to increase the risk of developing diabetes."

Woman smoker
Young smokers run the risk of diabetes
"To reduce the risk of developing diabetes, people should follow a healthy balanced diet, take regular exercise and not smoke."

Researchers suggest in utero exposure to smoking results in lifelong metabolic dysfunction, possibly due to the foetus being malnourished or harmed by the toxins in cigarette smoke.

University of Liverpool consultant physician Dr John Wilding is cautious about the report's findings.

The academic, who specialises in diabetes and obesity, said: "More details are needed to clarify whether the association is really true.

"I would agree it's further reason to discourage women from smoking during pregnancy, but I think it lacks proof."

A White Paper published in 1998 committed the government to reducing the number of women who smoke during pregnancy from 23% to 15% by the year 2010.

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Smoking deprives the foetus of nutrients"
Professor Peter Fleming, Institute of Child Health
"The baby is programmed to deal with famine conditions"
Bill Hartnett, Diabetes UK
"There has to be an environmental trigger"
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