Administrators hoping to combat school absenteeism in the early grades may want to add an anti-smoking campaign to their arsenal: Children who live with smokers miss more school days than those who are not exposed to tobacco smoke at home, according to the first nationwide study of the topic.
Researchers from the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital found that illnesses related to secondhand smoke—from chest colds to ear infections—could account for one-quarter to one-third of all missed days by primary-school-age children who live with smokers.
Researcher Douglas Levy and his co-authors found that children who lived with one smoker were absent an average of 1.06 days more each school year than children in nonsmoking homes, and that children who lived with two or more smokers missed 1.54 days more on average. They found higher rates for ear and respiratory illnesses among the children living with smokers, though the sample of children with asthma was too small to study links between household smoking and asthma attacks, which have been noted in other research.
The study, published this month in the online issue of the journal Pediatrics, analyzed a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 children, ages 6 to 11, whose parents participated in the 2005 National Health Interview Study. Within the sample, more than 14 percent of the children lived with at least one smoker, which researchers estimated would represent about 2.6 million primary school children nationwide.
A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2011 edition of Education Week as Study Probes Absences