Washington, DC—Exposure to tobacco smoke may significantly increase the odds of children having a learning disability, according to a new study by a professor at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS), a part of Georgetown University Medical Center.
“Contribution of Tobacco Smoke Exposure to Learning Disabilities” appeared online Jan. 7, 2010, in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing.
“Our work suggests that children who have been exposed to pre-natal and environmental tobacco smoke are almost three times more likely to experience learning disabilities when compared with children who did not have this exposure,” says lead author and environmental health expert Laura Anderko, PhD, RN, the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Chair in Values Based Health Care at NHS.
The study analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002, a nationally representative, cross-sectional survey conducted in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Anderko and her co-authors focused on survey data from more than 5,400 children—ages 4 to15 years old, exploring the association between learning disabilities and pre-natal exposure to tobacco smoke and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (i.e. second-hand smoke).
Learning disabilities, according to the article, are defined as disorders that affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, store, and respond to information among individuals who have average intelligence. Estimates say these disabilities affect more than 6 million children, ages 6 to 21, or almost 9.2 percent of the population.
Among the study’s statistically significant findings:
*Overall, 581 of the 5,420 children studied, ages 4 to15 years old, or 10.6 percent, were reported by a parent to have been diagnosed with a learning disability. Applied to the national population, this figure translates to 5.1 million children in the United States.
*Children who were exposed to pre-natal tobacco smoke (i.e. mothers reported smoking during pregnancy) are more than one and a half times (Odds Ratio = 1.6) more likely to experience learning disabilities when compared with children who did not have this exposure.
*Children who have been exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (i.e. second-hand smoke) are more than one and a half times (Odds Ratio = 1.6) more likely to experience learning disabilities when compared with children who did not have this exposure.
*Children who were exposed to both types of smoke are almost three times (Odds Ratio = 2.6) more likely to report a learning disability than non-exposed children.
“Our study reveals a very strong and troubling association between tobacco exposure and learning disabilities among children on a national scale,” says Anderko, also an associate professor of nursing at NHS. “This is an important step in understanding a major public health issue. Future research should delve deeper to study direct cause-and-effect."
Anderko's co-authors include Joe Braun, RN, MSPH, a research assistant in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Peggy Auinger, MS, an assistant in the Department of Neurology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.
The authors do not report any financial interests.
About the School of Nursing & Health Studies
Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies—a part of Georgetown University Medical Center—translates science into outcomes that benefit the public’s health. NHS lives its mission “to improve the health and well being of all people” through innovative educational and research programs. The school houses a multi-million dollar research portfolio and includes the Departments of Health Systems Administration, Human Science, International Health, and Nursing, as well as the Center on Health and Education and—in partnership with Georgetown University Law Center—the Linda and Timothy O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.
About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through Georgetown’s affiliation with MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.