Smoking will stunt your growth. It’s a warning that has passed from generations of parents to children. But does science support the claim? In fact, researchers have found that smoking can affect growth throughout a person’s life, sometimes in ways that may surprise you. But it should be no surprise that smoking poses the greatest threat to the development of children and unborn babies.
Effects on a Fetus
The March of Dimes warns pregnant women not to smoke. Cigarette smoking doubles a woman’s risk for having a baby weighing less than 5 1/2 lbs. Babies with low birth weights face a higher risk for developmental delays and lifelong illnesses. Cigarette smoking may cause low birth weights in two ways: by triggering premature labor and by stunting fetal growth in the womb. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the more a woman smokes during pregnancy, the greater her risk for a low-birth weight baby.
Effects on Young Children
A study in the International Journal of Epidemiology measured the growth of more than 9,000 children over a 6-year period. The research showed that children whose mothers smoked were significantly shorter than average. When mothers smoked more than 10 cigarettes per day, children’s heights were more than 1/2 cm (about 1/3 of an inch) shorter than average. The National Study of Health and Growth in the United Kingdom found similar results.
Effects on Older Children and Teens
Smoking by older children and teens can cause numerous health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking at this age slows lung growth, which can lead to shortness of breath, problems playing sports and more respiratory infections.
Effects on Adults
A study in the American Journal of Physiology reported that smokers of all ages risk slower muscle growth. Smokers have higher levels of myostatin, which inhibits muscle growth, and higher levels of enzymes that break down muscle tissue. As a result, smokers tend to have lower muscle mass and a harder time building new muscle. In addition, long-term cigarette smoking causes a loss of bone density. This increases the likelihood for osteoporosis later in life and can increase the risk for broken bones.
Avoiding cigarette smoke is an obvious solution, especially for pregnant women and parents of small children. Protecting children from passive smoke exposure and encouraging teens not to smoke are important health steps that every parent or guardian should take. ACOG reports that a mother-to-be who stops smoking by the end of the second trimester (6 months) has the same risk for a low-birth weight baby as a non-smoker. Researchers continue to study the link between cigarette smoke and growth. A March of Dimes study looking at genetic factors could eventually help doctors identify women who have a higher risk for harming their babies by smoking.