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Published in Print: November 1, 2000, as Health Update

Health Update

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Study Finds Depressing Results About Smoking

It's well known that smoking cigarettes can damage a teenager's lungs and cause other physical ailments later in life. But it can also have a negative effect on a child's mental health, according to a study published in last month's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

For More Information

Read the abstract of the study, "Depressive Symptoms and Cigarette Smoking Among Teens,"Pediatrics, October 2000.

The study, conducted by researchers at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., found that teenagers who smoked were much more likely to become depressed than their nonsmoking peers. The conclusion contradicts a common belief that teenagers start smoking in order to cope better with their depressive moods.

For the first half of the two-part study, the researchers analyzed data collected from a federal database called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to follow 8,704 teenagers for more than a year. At the outset of the study, none of the teenagers—all of whom were nonsmokers—reported having signs of depression, such as changes in their diet or sleep patterns or feeling of hopelessness.

Those who started smoking within 30 days were 21/2 times more likely to become depressed after a year than those who didn't smoke at all during that period.

Surprisingly, the authors also conclude that being depressed doesn't increase a teenager's risk of becoming a smoker. In the second half of the study, researchers evaluated another group of 6,000 teenagers, all nonsmokers, some of whom were depressed. The study found that those who were depressed at the beginning of the survey period were no more likely to have begun lighting up a year later than were their happier peers.

Though the direct connection between depression and cigarette smoking is still uncertain, the authors of the report suggest that nicotine can alter brain chemistry, particularly affecting the brain center that influences mood.

"Smoking does something chemically to the same system that processes depression in the brain," said John Capitman, a professor of health policy at Brandeis University and a co-author of the study.

That theory is supported, he said, by the fact that antidepressants can help adults quit smoking.

Asthma Rates

Black children are far more likely than white children to have asthma problems during childhood, according to a study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows a growing gap between racial groups afflicted with the condition.

In 1998, African-American children were 31 percent more likely than white children to have had asthma or an asthma attack in the previous year. The disparity has grown since 1980, when black children had a 15 percent higher rate of asthma than their white counterparts.

For More Information

Read the report, "Measuring Childhood Asthma Prevalence Before and After the 1997 Redesign of the National Health Interview Survey,"Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, Oct. 13, 2000.

Overall, asthma rates among all children climbed 5 percent between 1980 and 1995, when 62 out of every 1,000 children reported a bout of asthma in the previous year. But the overall rate dipped in the late 1990s. In 1998, 53 out of every 1,000 children reported suffering from an asthma attack.

Asthma, a lung condition characterized by labored breathing, is the leading chronic health problem among children in the United States and the No. 1 cause of school absences.

To conduct the study, published in the Oct. 13 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers at the Atlanta-based CDC's office of epidemiology and health promotion reviewed statistics collected from 1990 to 1998 by the federal National Health Interview Survey. The survey included responses from parents of 4,500 children under 18.

The CDC researchers did not speculate about the cause of the growing racial disparity. But earlier studies have shown that asthma rates are particularly high in areas with air pollution and crowded conditions, where many members of minority groups tend to live.

—Jessica Portner

Vol. 20, Issue 9, Page 9

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