Parent Ties, Child's Use of Alcohol, Tobacco Linked

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Children who spend a lot of time with their parents, and talk with them often, are less likely to smoke or drink than youngsters without such close parental contacts, a study released last week says.

The report, by researchers at the Louisiana State University Medical Center and the University of Southern California, found that children whose parents kept track of them and had positive relationships with them were less likely than others to become troublemakers or choose friends who use alcohol or tobacco.

The results were published last week in the September issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study followed 1,034 5th graders and 1,266 7th graders in two public school districts in southern California. The students, who got permission from their parents to participate, completed confidential surveys in classrooms. The 5th-grade group was surveyed each year through the 8th grade. The 7th-grade cohort was surveyed annually through the 9th grade.

In light of their findings, the researchers suggested providing parents more help with child-rearing issues and making them targets of future substance-abuse-prevention programs--before their children reach adolescence.

Behavior Clues

Stanford University researchers have identified links between the early onset of puberty and behaviors such as smoking and drinking in adolescent girls.

Girls who go through puberty at a younger age than average are more likely to start drinking and smoking early, the researchers found.

The study, which appeared in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, looked at 1,463 female students, ages 10 to 18, from four schools in northern California for nearly three years.

The researchers found that girls who went through puberty early first reported drinking alcohol at a median age of 12.5 years--0.7 years younger than girls whose puberty was later. The earlier maturers also reported drinking moderate amounts of alcohol--from two to more than 20 drinks in the previous month--at a median age of 13.7 years, or nearly a full year younger than girls with later puberty.

Similarly, girls with earlier puberty first smoked cigarettes at a median age of 12.8 years, 0.6 years sooner than girls who matured later.

Smoking and Suicide

High school girls who smoke heavily--at least one pack of cigarettes a day--are 18 times more likely to have attempted suicide than non-smokers, an Emory University researcher has found.

The heavy-smoking girls were also 5.6 times more likely to consider suicide and 9.7 times more likely to have made a suicide plan than nonsmokers, Kenneth Carter, an assistant professor of psychology at Oxford College of Emory University, said in an interview.

He conducted his research while working at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and released preliminary findings last month at the American Psychological Association's annual convention.

For his study, Mr. Carter analyzed data provided by the C.D.C.'s 1991 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a random, national sample of 10,076 high school students.

The correlation also applied to boys, he found. High school boys who were heavy smokers were 6.1 times more likely than nonsmokers to have considered suicide, five times more likely to have made a suicide plan, and 5.6 times more likely to have attempted suicide.

The more cigarettes teenagers smoked, the greater the risk of suicide, Mr. Carter said.

"I'm not saying anyone who smokes a pack a day ... is going to commit suicide," he said, "but we know there is this very huge correlation."

Advertising's Appeal

A government study out last month, meanwhile, says that as advertising expenditures for some major cigarette brands changed between 1989 and 1993, so did the smoking preferences of teenagers.

According to the study in the Aug. 19 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the C.D.C., the three most popular brands among adolescent smokers in 1993 were also the three most heavily advertised: Marlboro, Camel, and Newport.

Between 1989 and 1993, the brand preferences of adolescents changed significantly. The percentage of adolescents buying Marlboros fell 13 percent, while the percentage of adolescents purchasing Camels jumped 64 percent. And the percentage buying Newports rose 55 percent.

Between 1989 and 1993, Marlboro's advertising budget decreased from $102 million to $75 million, and Camel's advertising increased from $27 million to $43 million. But no link could be made between Newport's substantial decrease in advertising expenditures and its brand's rising popularity among adolescents, the report says.

Indicators of Violence

Common birth complications and maternal rejection in male babies may contribute to violent tendencies later in life, research out last month suggests.

A study of 4,269 Danish males by Adrian Raine, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, found that those who had suffered from both factors made up 4.4 percent of the sample, but they accounted for 18 percent of all violent crimes committed by the men. Mr. Raine presented his findings at the A.P.A. convention.

Birth complications included a breech birth, an umbilical cord wrapped around an infant's neck, and forceps used during delivery. The study classified as rejected only a boy whose mother did not want the pregnancy, tried to abort it, and institutionalized her son in his first year of life.

The findings suggest that making sure mothers receive prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal care could reduce violent crime, Mr. Raine said.

Vaccinations for Teens

Vaccination of adolescents against hepatitis B can succeed in a variety of settings, including schools and juvenile-detention facilities, says a study in the C.D.C.'s Aug. 26 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Vaccinating teenagers can be difficult because of their lack of routine health-care visits.

The study looked at three voluntary vaccination programs run during the past two years. Two were based in middle schools--one in San Francisco and one in Baton Rouge, La. The third was run statewide in Oregon facilities that had existing health-care services for adolescents and young adults.

Vaccination rates ranged from 65 percent in Baton Rouge to 94 percent in the San Francisco program, where educating students about hepatitis B and positive peer pressure helped to insure vaccination, the study says.

--Millicent Lawton

Vol. 14, Issue 02

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