Community Effort Can Decrease Teen Drinking and Smoking, Study Finds

A new study finds a program designed to assist communities in preventing unhealthy behaviors in teens is effective in reducing adolescent smoking and drinking.

The study found tenth graders in towns that used the program, called “Communities That Care,” were less likely to try drinking or smoking, compared with teens in communities not using the program. The program was also effective in reducing delinquent behavior including stealing, fights and vandalism, HealthDay reports.

Communities participating in the program had 4,400 fifth graders in seven states complete surveys designed to identify factors that put them at risk for health and behavior problems. A group of community leaders, including parents, teachers and health workers, looked at ways to address the problems. They chose from a list of preventive interventions that have been shown to work, such as tutoring, educational sessions for parents of at-risk kids, and middle-school curricula about substance abuse.

The children were followed for five years. The researchers then compared rates of substance abuse and violence in 12 towns where community leaders used Communities That Care with 12 communities that did not use the program.

The researchers found teenagers in towns that participated in the program were half as likely to ever have smoked a cigarette by tenth grade, and 21 percent less likely to be a current smoker, compared with teens in non-participating communities.

They were also 38 percent less likely to ever have tried alcohol, and 21 percent less likely to have engaged in delinquent behavior.

The study did not find a difference between the two groups in rates of illegal or prescription drug use.

“What’s exciting about this paper is that these decreases in alcohol use, smoking and violence were apparent even after outside support for the Communities That Care system ended. It shows that community coalitions can make a sustained difference in their youngsters’ health community-wide,” study author J. David Hawkins of the University of Washington said in a news release.

The findings are published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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