Children whose parents smoke may be at greater risk of developing heart disease when they're adults than children of nonsmoking parents, a new study says.
The study included people in Finland whose exposure as children to parents' smoke was measured in 1980 and 1983. In 2001 and 2007, the participants were checked for plaque accumulation in their neck (carotid) arteries, a sign of heart disease.
Overall, adults who were exposed to smoking from one or two parents during childhood were 1.7 times more likely to have carotid plaque buildup than those whose parents did not smoke, according to the study in the March 23 online issue of the journal Circulation.
The increased risk of plaque buildup varied depending on whether parents tried to limit their children's exposure to secondhand smoke.
The risk was 1.6 times higher for those whose parents smoked but tried to limit the exposure, and was four times higher for those whose parents did not try to limit exposure.
The findings add to growing evidence that childhood exposure to secondhand smoke from parents has a lasting effect on heart health, said study lead author Costan Magnussen, a senior research fellow at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania in Australia.
It's best if parents don't smoke. But for those "who are trying to quit smoking, they may be able to reduce some of the potential long-term risk for their children by actively reducing their children's exposure to secondhand smoke [i.e., not smoking inside the home, car, or smoke well away from their children]," Magnussen said in a journal news release.