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Secondhand Smoke Harms Girls' Hearts More than Boys

Update Date: Apr 30, 2013 12:54 PM EDT

Secondhand smoke may pose a greater risk to teen girls than boys, according to a new study.

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM), reveals that teenage girls exposed to secondhand smoke at home tend to have lower levels of the 'good' form of cholesterol that cuts heart disease risk.

Researchers explain that 'good' cholesterol or high-density lipoproteins (HDL) soak up excess cholesterol in the blood stream and take it to the liver where it can be broken down.  Unlike 'bad' cholesterol or low-density lipoproteins, which can create a waxy build-up that blocks blood vessels, HDL cholesterol can help combat heart disease risk.

"In our study, we found 17-year-old girls raised in households where passive smoking occurred were more likely to experience declines in HDL cholesterol levels," lead researcher Dr. Chi Le-Ha, MD, of the University of Western Australia, said in a news release.

"Secondhand smoke did not have the same impact on teenage boys of the same age, which suggests passive smoking exposure may be more harmful to girls. Considering cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women in the western world, this is a serious concern," she said.

For the study, researchers looked at data from 1,057 adolescents who were born between 1989 and 1992 in Perth, Australia. Le-Ha and her team looked at information about smoking in the household beginning at 18 weeks gestation and leading up to when the children turned 17. Researchers said 48 percent of the participants in the study were exposed to secondhand smoke at home. Researchers also conducted blood tests to measure the teenagers' cholesterol levels.

Researchers conclude that the findings suggest that childhood passive smoke exposure "may be a more significant cardiovascular risk factor" for women than men.

"We need to redouble public health efforts to reduce young children's secondhand smoke exposure in the home, particularly girls' exposure," Le-Ha concluded.

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