Study: Moms Who Smoke During Pregnancy Might Have Criminal Kids

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Betty Drapers of the world, listen up. While research has already shown a link between maternal smoking in pregnancy and attention and behavioral problems in kids and teens, a new study from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health finds a longer-term correlation: between smoking during pregnancy and eventual criminality in adult children.

“The prevalence of behavior problems is quite high during adolescence,” explained the study’s lead author, Angela Paradis of the Harvard School of Public Health. “But there are groups who are more life-course, persisting [criminal] groups versus those who are just experimenting, asserting independence, or emulating anti-social peers. Looking at outcomes in adolescents you might be mixing two groups. So we wanted to look at only adult outcomes.” (More on Study: Smoking During Pregnancy May Result in Uncoordinated Kids)

Researchers found not only a correlation between maternal smoking and the likelihood of criminal activity in grown children, they also found a dose-dependent relationship: women who smoked heavily during pregnancy (more than 20 cigarettes per day) were more likely than moderate smokers to have adult children with an arrest record.

In fact, adults whose mothers were heavy smokers during pregnancy were 30% more likely to have been arrested than those whose mothers were light or nonsmokers. Further, they were more likely to be repeat offenders. (More on Photos: Your Doctor Wants You to Smoke)

Researchers used data from 3,766 participants in the Collaborative Perinatal Project based in Providence, R.I., to learn about the smoking habits of expectant mothers in the area. Expecting mothers were interviewed about their smoking habits between 1959 and 1966 — an era during which smoking was not considered a risk to fetal health. These women’s responses provided a more reliable metric than would be available today, given the shame associated with tobacco use during pregnancy. (Also, blood samples were taken from mothers at the time, and were analyzed for evidence of smoking, which corroborated the self-reporting.)

In 1999 and 2000, when all children born to these mothers had reached adulthood, researchers were able to check adult criminal records for all children. Arrest records were then compared with smoking information for the mothers. Researchers also controlled for a variety of confounding factors — everything from parents’ education levels to their own antisocial behavior. (More on Video: Au Revoir Cigarettes)

“While we cannot definitively conclude that maternal smoking during pregnancy (particularly heavy smoking) is a causal risk factor for adult criminal offending, the current findings do support a modest causal relationship,” the authors concluded.

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