Childhood exposure to smoking may lead to poorer cognitive function midlife

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Exposure to parental smoking in childhood and adolescence is associated with poorer learning ability and memory in midlife, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

For the study, the cognitive performance of over 2,000 study participants was measured at the age of 34 and 49 years old. The results showed that participants who had been exposed to parental smoking in childhood had worse learning ability and poorer memory in midlife than those participants whose parents did not smoke in their presence. This association was present regardless of the participants' own smoking either in adolescence or adulthood, according to the study.

The difference in cognitive performance between those participants who had been exposed to parental smoking and those with non-smoking parents was equivalent to the difference caused by up to five years of aging, the researchers said.

The study is part of the ongoing national Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study coordinated by the Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Turku in Finland. The researchers of the follow-up study have studied 3,596 participants repeatedly over 31 years for their cardiovascular risk factors from childhood to adulthood.

The results of this study highlight that the focus of prevention of secondhand smoking exposure should be on children and adolescents in order to promote brain health in adulthood. In addition to protecting children and adolescents from starting active smoking, attention should be paid to their secondhand smoking exposure at home and elsewhere.