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Miriam Hospital Study on Effects of Mothers Who Smoke During Pregnancy Cited in 2014 Surgeon General’s Tobacco Report

Latest Surgeon General’s Report--which marks federal document’s 50th anniversary--includes researchers’ findings on effects of maternal smoking on offspring brain structure, function.   

A Miriam Hospital review article showing altered brain development in offspring of mothers who smoke during pregnancy has been included in the 2014 Surgeon General’s Tobacco Report. Prior to now, few studies have assessed the relationship between maternal smoking and child brain development.

Entitled,  “Maternal smoking during pregnancy and offspring brain structure and function: review and agenda for future research,” the review was led by Laura Stroud, PhD, a senior research scientist at the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital. It was published in 2012 in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

“Information from our study may help us to understand pathways leading to long-term adverse outcomes from prenatal tobacco exposure,” Stroud said. “Our study also gives more ammunition and information to mothers and providers to help them quit.

“Further, with our research included in the Surgeon General’s Report,” Stroud added, “we are contributing to the body of evidence that forms ‘the state of the science’ regarding tobacco’s effects on health. The SGR typically has a major impact on tobacco public policy. It’s a real honor.”

The Surgeon General’s Tobacco Report˜--the 32nd tobacco-related Surgeon General’s Report issued since 1964--is a comprehensive compilation of available evidence and literature about the effects of smoking on health. Its purpose is to determine the strength of related evidence and make conclusions about the links between smoking and various diseases. Surgeon General reports have focused on different themes through the years, ranging from the impact of tobacco control policies to the effects of secondhand smoke. The last report was issued in 2012.

“Our paper reviewed the small but emerging literature looking at the effects of maternal smoking and child brain development,” said Margaret Bublitz, research scientist at the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam, and first author of the review paper.

The paper found that across a small number of studies that exist, children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy showed a decreased size of a number of brain regions--particularly the cerebellum and corpus callosum. The review also found a lack of coordination across different brain regions during information and auditory processing--the same regions and deficits that have been shown to be altered in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other disorders. It contained a proposed agenda for future research, including improved measures of maternal smoking and repeated measures of brain structures and function and attention deficits over development using designs that allow control for potential genetic differences between mothers who do and do not smoke. 

“What is important is that across a small number of studies, there appear to be effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy on brain structure and function,” Stroud said, “and these alterations may help us start to explain greater rates of attention deficits and disruptive behaviors in children of mothers who smoke.”

More about the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital