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Kids miss more school when people smoke in the house

September 06, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Children who live with people who smoke in the house miss more school than kids who live in smoke-free homes, researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics.
Children who live with people who smoke in the house miss more school than… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Smoking doesn't just harm kids' health -- it also may lower their performance in school and cost their families money.

That's because children who live in homes where at least one person smokes inside the house miss more days of school than kids who live in non-smoking homes, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston reported Monday.

Their nationwide study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, backs up findings of earlier research in California and New Jersey.

The team combed through federal survey data to assess the link between smoking and school absenteeism.  Respondents to the 2005 National Health Interview Study had provided information about the number of people who smoked in their homes, children's general health, incidence of ear infection over the previous 12 months, incidence of a cold over the previous two weeks and asthma diagnosis, among other health and demographic details. The researchers looked at kids between age 6 and 11, excluding kids 12 and above to minimize chances that smoke exposure--and missed school-- came from students themselves doing the smoking.

More than 14% of the children in their sample lived in a house where at least one person smoked indoors, and 6% lived in a home where two or more people did.  Echoing demographics of smokers and non-smokers in general, surveyed homes with no indoor smoking were more highly educated, earned higher incomes and were more likely to be Hispanic.  

The researchers found that living with someone who smoked in the home raised a child's likelihood of missing school and living with more than one person who smoked in the home raised that likelihood even higher: Kids living with one adult who smoked in the home had 1.06 more days absent from school per year than kids who lived with none. Kids who lived with two or more adults who smoked in the home missed 1.54 more days than smoke-free kids.

In all, the authors attributed 24% of absences among kids with one smoker in the house to smoking-related illness.  For kids living with two or more indoor smokers, that went up to 34% of absences.  A child's likelihood of having three or more ear infections in a year went up with the number of people who smoked in the house.  Kids with two smokers in the house had more colds.  But the survey data uncovered no relationship between smoking in the house and asthma.  

Missing school has obvious ramifications for educational performance.  But it also can hit families' pocketbooks when parents have to miss work to nurse a cold or an ear infection.  The researchers estimated that caregivers' time tending to children who were absent from school amounted to $227 million per year.  "When young children are home from school, parents may miss time at work or have to find alternative sources of child care.  Such a burden will be especially acute for low-income parents...and single parents.  Parents working low-paying jobs at small business may even be vulnerable to job loss," they wrote.

The Pediatrics study on absenteeism is posted here (no subscription required as of Tuesday).

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