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Discrimination May Lead to Smoking in Boys

Stress felt by minority teens can lead to unhealthy behaviors, researchers say

FRIDAY, Jan. 22, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Minority teen boys smoke more when they suffer discrimination, but that's not the case for minority teen girls, a U.S. study finds.

Perceived discrimination had no effect on smoking rates among minority girls aged 12 to 15 and was associated with lower rates of smoking among minority teen girls aged 16 to 19.

"Our findings in girls, especially in the older girls, really surprised us," study first author Dr. Sarah Wiehe, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said in a news release from the school. "We do not know why older girls who perceived discrimination were less likely to smoke, but there may be a possibility that they perceived discrimination because they were pregnant and also that they did not smoke due to pregnancy."

The study included 2,561 black and Hispanic teens, aged 12 to 19, living in low-income households in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. About 25 percent of the teens reported discrimination within the previous six months, and 12 percent said they'd smoked within the previous 30 days.

Increased smoking by boys who suffer higher levels of discrimination may be caused by increased stress from male-specific targeting by police and business, the study concluded.

"Boys and girls may experience discrimination differently due to where they spend their time and that may account for the differences in whether discrimination was associated with smoking," Wiehe said. "In other words, the context of discrimination matters. We need to be aware that discrimination is a public health problem for adolescents -- one related to major health issues like smoking -- and need to actively work to reduce these occurrences."

The study appears online and in the March print issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about child and teen tobacco use.

SOURCE: Indiana University, news release, Jan. 19, 2010
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