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Childhood Obesity Tied to Tobacco Smoke and Roadway Air Pollution

Update Date: Nov 12, 2014 09:19 AM EST

Childhood obesity is a serious health condition that can lead to chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. Previous studies have repeatedly linked childhood obesity to poor diet and low fitness levels. Now, a new study has identified two more potential culprits, which are exposure to tobacco smoke and near-roadway air pollution.

"Vehicle miles traveled, exposure to some components of the near-roadway air pollutant mixture, and near roadway residential development have increased across the United States over the last several decades corresponding to the epidemic of childhood obesity," said lead author on the study, Rob McConnell, M.D., professor of preventive medicine, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC). "The potential for near-roadway air pollution to be among several factors contributing to the epidemic of obesity merits further investigation."

For this study, the researchers examined more than 3,000 children who were exposed to tobacco smoke in the womb as well as secondhand smoke. The children were enrolled in the Southern California Children's Health Study when they were 10-years-old in 1992 and followed for eight years.

The study was focused on analyzing the effects of air pollution and tobacco exposure on the children's risk of obesity. In order to assess air pollution exposure, the researchers took into account several factors, such as traffic volume, proximity of the children's home to the roadways, and predominant wind direction. At the beginning of the study, parents also completed a questionnaire regarding their children's level of exposure to tobacco.

The researchers reported that children who were exposed to tobacco tended to have a higher body mass index (BMI), which measures obesity, when compared to unexposed children. Children who were exposed to air pollution also had higher BMIs. When the researchers looked at children who were exposed to both factors, they found that their effects on obesity were even more pronounced.

"Further research is needed to determine if our findings can be replicated in other populations and to assess both the potential contribution of combustion sources to the epidemic of obesity and the potential impact of interventions to reduce exposure," McConnell said according to the press release.

The study was published in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

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