Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are likely to damage their children’s blood vessels, according to a new study.

Children with mothers who smoke are more likely to develop thicker and denser arteries that could later cause obesity and heart disease, said researchers from the Netherlands said in a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

"Exposure of children to parental tobacco smoke during pregnancy affects their arterial structure and function in early life," concluded researchers led by Caroline Geerts, MD of the Julius Center for Health Science and Primary Care. Other authors were from University Medical Center Utrecht.

Researchers analyzed data collected from 259 children to determine the effect of smoking on children’s lung functions and artery dimensions, and found that children whose mother had smoked throughout their pregnancies had significantly thicker and stiffer arteries at age five than children whose mothers had not smoked.

Children who had parents who both smoked had even thicker arteries than children who only their mother smoked during pregnancy.

Children whose mothers had not smoked during pregnancy but resumed after they were born did not have thicker arteries, researchers said.

Scientists examined children through ultrasound at four weeks of age and then at five years of age to determine lung function and development, and determined mothers’ smoking behaviors through questionnaires.

Smoking during pregnancy was defined by smoking at least one cigarette a day during the entire course of the pregnancy.

Researchers also found a “clear positive trend between the number of cigarettes smoked by mothers in pregnancy and adverse vascular health”.

They concluded that this finding “adds to the credibility of gestational smoking being causally related to offspring vascular damage."

This ongoing study is part of a large population-based birth study that started in December 2011.