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Published in Print: February 7, 2001, as Health Update

Health Update

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Report Says Anti-Drug Television Ads Work

Television public-service announcements aimed at discouraging adolescent drug use can significantly reduce marijuana smoking among those teenagers who are most likely to try the drug, according to a report published in this month's issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

In the first study to demonstrate the effectiveness of public-service announcements designed to deter teenagers from using marijuana, researchers at the University of Kentucky-Lexington interviewed more than 3,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in several Kentucky counties over a 32-month period.

The researchers spoke with the teenagers before and after airing several specially designed public-service ads that featured youths talking about the dangers of drug use. The spots were aired during shows like "The Simpsons" and "Friends," which have large teenage audiences.

The study showed that one year after an anti-marijuana spot first aired on Kentucky television, there was a 26 percent drop in marijuana use among "sensation seeking" youths in the study—23 percent said they had smoked the drug in the past 30 days, down from 33 percent before the study began. Researchers defined sensation-seeking youths as those who "demonstrated a tendency to seek novel, emotionally intense stimuli and the willingness to take risks to obtain such stimuli." The television spots, the report said, had no affect on teenagers who were identified as "low sensation seekers."

Philip Palmgreen, a University of Kentucky-Lexington communications professor and the research team's leader, said the study shows that the most effective television campaigns should be intense, compelling stories showing the real-life consequences of drug use, such as losing a job or injuring oneself.

One of the best spots, he said, featured a true tale of a teenage boy who appears in a wheelchair as he describes how, while high on marijuana, he was playing a game involving guns and was shot in the spine and paralyzed.

"I only smoked [marijuana] for a few months, but now I am on drugs for life," he says in the spot, referring to the medications he must take for his paralysis.

Birthweight and Academic Performance

A baby's birthweight is a relatively good predictor of how well the child will perform in school, a study published in the Jan. 27 issue of the British Medical Journal reports.

In one of the largest longitudinal studies to date to link birthweight with educational performance, researchers at University College, London, examined the link between cognitive ability, academic achievement, and birthweight in 3,900 males and females born in 1946.

Excluding children who were in the lowest birthweight range—less than 2.5 kilograms—the researchers compared how the subjects, who had varied but normal weights at birth, performed on cognitive tests at ages 8, 11, 15, 26, and 43. According to the study, a normal birthweight range is 2.5 kilograms or heavier, or 5½ pounds.

The researchers found that men whose birthweight was at the low end of the normal range had a 31 percent likelihood of receiving a college degree, while males who had the highest birthweights had a 45 percent likelihood of obtaining a higher education. Marcus Richards, a University College, London, scientist and a senior author of the report, said the study confirms earlier research showing that children's developmental abilities are connected to how much they weigh at birth.

But Mr. Richards said many factors could compensate for whatever deficits low birthweight presents. "The last thing I would want," Mr. Richards said, is for parents of low-birthweight babies to think their children "are going to be handicapped intellectually. There are numerous things that affect achievement, including having parents engaged in their children's education and helping with homework."

—Jessica Portner

Vol. 20, Issue 21, Page 6

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