ETSU Researcher finds women who smoke more likely to have overweight children

JOHNSON CITY – A researcher in the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health has found that children are more at risk of being overweight if they are born of mothers who smoked within one year before giving birth.

Dr. Liang Wang, an assistant professor in the ETSU Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, studied the correlation between the smoking habits of mothers and children in elementary school. His study was published in the latest edition of the journal Pediatric Obesity.

Wang's investigation focused on children in first through sixth grade who were classified as overweight – specifically, those with a body mass index (BMI) that puts them in the 85th percentile or above as compared to their peers. Children were more likely to be overweight if their mothers smoked a year prior to giving birth, and they were also more likely to have higher BMI averages, Wang said. He drew his conclusions from extensive study of data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.

Existing public health programs offer help for women who want to quit smoking during pregnancy. Wang is hopeful that his study could lead to new smoking cessation programs not only for women who are pregnant, but also more generally for those who are of child bearing age.

"The evidence suggests that a woman's decision to smoke can influence the weight and health of her child even before she becomes pregnant,” Wang said. "There are significant public health implications that merit consideration of enhanced smoking cessation programs."

Maternal and child health is the primary research interest for Wang, who twice received the American Public Health Association Maternal and Child Health Section Outstanding Student Author award, in 2009 and 2010. Wang received his doctor of public health and master of public health degrees from the ETSU College of Public Health after earning his medical degree from China.

This is Wang's second first-author publication on the subject this year. He has been involved in more than 20 manuscript submissions in 2011-2012; eight manuscripts were published or accepted for publication, and several others are undergoing peer review. Wang was also assigned as an associate director for the China-Tennessee Health Education Training Institute hosted by ETSU in 2011. This summer, Wang received a Health Policy and Systems Sciences Travel Fellowship Award as a commentator for the Westlake Summer Youth Forum selected by China Medical Board.

Wang received grant funding for his study from the ETSU Research Development Committee. Dr. Hadii Mamudu, an assistant professor in the ETSU College of Public Health's Department of Health Services Management and Policy, is a co-author on Wang's paper. Mamudu is regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on global tobacco policies.