Maternal drinking behaviour and co-exposure from smoking during and after pregnancy in relation to the neurocognitive function of school-children in the rural Western Cape,
NeuroToxicology, 2021, ISSN 0161-813X,
Maternal substance use and its long-term effect on the neurocognitive functions of children is a global public health issue. Despite an increase in substance use in rural areas of low to middle-income countries, research is limited in these populations.
We have therefore explored the effect of maternal drinking and smoking behaviors on the neurocognitive functioning of rural school children.
A cross-sectional analysis on the determinants of current, past and gestational maternal alcohol use and gestational smoking on child neurocognitive functions was conducted on school-children (N = 482), embedded within the child health agricultural cohort (CapSA) study across seven schools in rural Western Cape, South Africa. Standardised neurocognitive assessment tools included the Cambridge Automated Neuropsychological Battery (CANTAB) and the KIDSCREEN-10 to measure health-related quality of life via a child questionnaire. Maternal smoking and drinking behaviour were captured using a parent/guardian questionnaire.
Of the 482 parents/guardians who completed the survey, 29% reported current drinking 27% reported past drinking and 10% reported maternal gestational drinking, while 31% reported gestational smoking. Significant associations were observed between past and current maternal drinking and child’s reduced rapid visual processing accuracy in attention [β:-0.03; 95% confidence interval (CI): -0.05;-0.004] and between maternal drinking during pregnancy and reduced child’s spatial working memory (β: -0.59; CI: -1.02; -0.15). Heavy (>5 cigarettes per day) gestational smoking was associated with lowered child’s learning in memory (β:-1.69; 95% CI: -3.05; -0.33) and lower health-related quality of life (β: -3.41; CI: -6.64; -0.17). The odds of a child repeating a grade were 1.69 (CI: 2.81-1.02) for those exposed to maternal gestational smoking and 1.68 (CI: 3.31-0.85) for those exposed to maternal gestational drinking compared to those who were not exposed.
The consistent negative associations across all four maternal substance use proxies, six neurocognitive health outcomes and one health symptom is suggestive of adverse health effects, warranting longitudinal follow-up. Health policies to eliminate gestational substance use are recommended.