A recent study, published in Scientific Reports, concludes that if a girl’s maternal grandmother smoked tobacco during her pregnancy, she is significantly more likely to develop autistic traits.
Autism, characterized by repetitive behaviors and difficulty interacting socially, appears to be on the rise.
Much of this increase is thought to be due to better detection rates and greater awareness. However, many scientists believe that environmental or lifestyle factors might also play a role.
A recent study, carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, looked into three generations of data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a long-term data collection project carried out by the University that began in the early 1990s.
The researchers recruited expectant mothers and took in-depth information about their lifestyle, habits, and health – including whether or not they smoked. They have been followed up regularly since the project first began.
As for why granddaughters rather than grandsons are affected, the jury is out. Prof. Pembrey says that: “We have no explanation for the sex difference, although we have previously found that grandmaternal smoking is associated with different growth patterns in grandsons and granddaughters.”
More research will need to be done to confirm these results and answer new questions that have arisen from the data. The researchers plan to extend their findings, and Prof. Jean Golding, another of the authors, explains that: “We have started studying the next generation of participants, so eventually we will be able to see if the effect carries down from the great-grandparents to their great-grandchildren too.”
The upshot of this study is the repetition of some sound advice – do not smoke during pregnancy. As Prof. Golding says: “We already know that protecting a baby from tobacco smoke is one of the best things a woman can do to give her child a healthy start in life. Now we’ve found that not smoking during pregnancy could also give their future grandchildren a better start too.”