Published Online: April 2, 1997

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Number of School Clinics Up 50 Percent Since 1994

The number of school-based health clinics in the United States has shot up 50 percent in two years, a new national survey notes.

In a survey conducted last year of adolescent-health offices in 50 states, pollsters counted 913 school health centers. New York led the nation with 149; Florida came in second with 66 sites. In 1994, the number of school clinics hovered around 600.

The recent surge is partly due to the fact that states have become increasingly disposed to spend money on health programs at schools, said Julia Lear, the director of Making the Grade, a Washington-based nonprofit group that promotes school-based health centers and conducted the survey. According to Ms. Lear, during the past school year, 34 states allocated $42 million in state and federal money to such centers, an 8 percent increase over 1994. More than half of school-based health centers currently receive some state dollars, says the report, which was released last month.

Despite criticism that such facilities encourage sexual activity by offering students sex education materials, the number of hospitals, schools, and local health centers that are jointly setting up clinics also continues to grow, the study points out.

School centers are attractive to lawmakers eager to cut down on health-care costs because they are often the most cost-effective venues for delivering services to needy young people and their families, Ms. Lear said last week.

Nicotine and Newborns

Newborn babies whose mothers smoked cigarettes during pregnancy have levels of nicotine in their systems that are comparable to adult smokers, according to a study.

In the study presented at the American College of Cardiology conference in Anaheim, Calif., last month, researchers at Mont-Godinne University Hospital in Yvoir, Belgium, measured the level of cotinine in the urine of 31 3-day-old babies whose mothers smoked, as well as in 91 children ages 1 to 12 whose parents smoked tobacco products. Cotinine is a waste byproduct of nicotine. The urinary tests were also given to nonsmoking adults married to smokers and to nonsmoking couples.

The researchers found that the cotinine levels in infants born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy were 551 nanograms per milligram of urine, about the same level as in their mothers.

The amount in toddlers, ages 1 to 3, was 200 nanograms per milligram. The level, the study says, is still considerably higher than it was in adult nonsmokers exposed to smoke at home.

The researchers also found that older children who lived with parents who smoked had "measurably higher" cotinine concentrations than children of nonsmokers.

The results indicate that the younger a person is exposed to smoking, the more susceptible he or she is to its harmful effects.

"Passive smoking appears to be quantitatively more important in children of smoking parents [and newborn babies] than in adults passively exposed to spousal smoking," the study concludes.

Exposure to tobacco in the womb has been linked to premature birth, stunted growth, and low birthweight.

While the habit of smoking during pregnancy has decreased in recent years, 15 percent of women still smoke while they're pregnant, the report says.

--JESSICA PORTNER jportner@epe.org

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