Popular Kids Smoke More
This research, published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, supports previous USC-led studies of pupils in the sixth through twelfth grades throughout Mexico and the United States.
"That we're still seeing this association more than 10 years later, despite marginal declines in smoking, suggests that popularity is a strong predictor of smoking behavior," said Thomas W. Valente, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and lead author of three prior studies on the subject.
In the most recent study, Valente and his team surveyed 1,950 students in the ninth and tenth grades in October of 2006 and 2007. Students were asked if they had ever smoked, how many students their age they believed to be smokers, how often in the last 30 days they had smoked, how they believed their close friends felt about smoking, and who their five best friends were. Popularity was calculated by how often participants mentioned a student as a friend.
Results found that pupils who believed their friends smoked were more likely to smoke, even if this assumption was incorrect. Popular students started to smoke earlier than non-popular students. Kids that became smokers between ninth and tenth grade were more likely to befriend other smokers. To the researchers surprise, student perception of the norm, (how often and how many of their peers smoked) was less likely to encourage smoking than the perceived behavior of their close friends.
In a separate study in 2012, published in a journal called Salud Publica de Mexico, Valente and a team of researchers surveyed 399 teens at a high school in Jalisco. In 2005, 1,486 youths in the sixth and seventh grades in Southern California were measured and in 2001, 2,525 high school students across the United States were also surveyed. Both studies appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Valente concluded that consistent samples have come from four different areas, and therefore, it is easy to see adolescents turn to their close friends when choosing what is important in their lives.
Written by Kelly Fitzgerald