Among the Old Order Amish, women rarely smoke but about one-third of married  men do. That combination gave researchers a unique opportunity to study the effects of secondhand smoke in a population otherwise known for their healthy lifestyle.

And what they discovered was that the men's smoking harmed the women.

A study in PLOS One, a open access peer-reviewed journal, found that even a relatively small exposure to secondhand smoke can result in greater health risks including those associated with the cardiovascular system, cholesterol and blood glucose.

The study looked at data involving 3,568 Amish, including tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure from family members. They found 34 percent of Amish men reported they had smoked, of those 64 percent used cigars, 46 percent used cigarettes and 21 percent used pipes.

Less than one percent of the Amish women reported they had ever smoked.

Women who were exposed to secondhand smoke had a higher body mass index, higher "bad" cholesterol, and higher blood glucose levels, the study reported.

"The fact that small amounts of exposure caused significant impact among Amish non-smokers, a population in which smoking is already at low levels, should be of concern to populations where smoking is much more prevalent," E. Albert Reece, Dean of The University of Maryland School of Medicine told LancasterOnline.

Tobacco is responsible for about 480,000 deaths annually, including more than 41,000 deaths attributable to lung cancer and coronary heart disease related to secondhand smoke exposure, the journal reported.