Test scores may suffer among children exposed to nicotine.
THE QUESTION Smoke from other people's cigarettes can cause health problems in children. Might it also affect their cognitive abilities?
THIS STUDY involved 4,399 young people, 6 to 16 years old, who did not smoke. They were given standardized tests of reading, math and memory skills, and blood tests measured their levels of cotinine, which is produced when nicotine breaks down in the body. Children with the highest cotinine levels had reading scores about eight points lower than those with the lowest readings (87 vs. 95, on a 100-point scale). Math scores varied from 96 for those with low levels of cotinine to 89 for those with high levels. Short-term memory was not affected.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Young people exposed to secondhand smoke. While more than 40 percent of American children live with someone who smokes, 84 percent of the study participants had measurable cotinine in their blood.
CAVEATS The mechanism by which secondhand smoke may affect cognitive ability remains unclear, and the level at which smoke begins to have an effect was not determined. The intelligence of the children's parents was not taken into consideration. The study was not randomized.
BOTTOM LINE Parents may want to increase efforts to shield their children from secondhand smoke.
FIND THIS STUDY January issue of Environmental Health Perspectives; available online at www.ehponline.org.
LEARN MORE ABOUT the health effects of secondhand smoke at tobaccofreekids.org(click "Research and Facts") and www.lungusa.org.
Eating too much red meat may raise a person's risk of disease.
THE QUESTION Does long-term consumption of red meat affect the risk of colorectal cancer?