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Feb 10, 2015 02:03 PM EST

Tobacco-Smoking Parents May Increase Diabetes Risk for Children in the Womb

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New research suggests that children exposed to tobacco smoke from their parents while in the womb are predisposed to developing diabetes as adults.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis found that women whose mothers smoked while pregnant were two to three times as likely to be diabetic as adults. Dads who smoked while their daughter was in utero also contributed to an increased diabetes risk for their child, but more research is needed to establish the extent of that risk.

"Our findings are consistent with the idea that gestational environmental chemical exposures can contribute to the development of health and disease," Michele La Merrill, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 1,800 daughters of women who had participated in the Child Health and Development Studies, an ongoing project of the Public Health Institute.

In previous studies, fetal exposure to cigarette smoke has also been linked to higher rates of obesity and low birth weight. This study found that birth weight did not affect whether the daughters of smoking parents developed diabetes.

"We found that smoking of parents is by itself a risk factor for diabetes, independent of obesity or birth weight," La Merrill said. "If a parent smokes, you're not protected from diabetes just because you're lean."

The findings are detailed in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.

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