Most behaviors preceding major causes of preventable death have begun by young adulthood

By the time they reach early adulthood, a large proportion of American youth have begun the poor practices contributing to three leading causes of preventable death in the United States: smoking, overweight and obesity, and alcohol abuse. This finding is according to an NIH-funded analysis of the most comprehensive survey of adolescent health behavior undertaken to date.

The analysis also found that significant health disparities exist between racial groups, and that Americans are less likely to have access to health care when they reach adulthood than they did during the teenage years.

The analysis appears in the January 2006 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and was conducted by researchers at the Carolina Population Center and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"Smoking, obesity, and alcohol abuse are leading contributors to preventable death in the United States," said Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH Institute that funded the analysis. "By early adulthood, a large proportion of Americans smoke, are overweight, and drink alcohol to excess."

Principal investigator Kathleen Mullan Harris, Ph.D., and her colleagues of the Carolina Population Center and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, conducted their analysis using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health was designed to measure the effects of home, family, and school environment on behaviors that promote health. The study was undertaken in response to a mandate by Congress. Funding for the survey was provided by a grant from the NICHD with contributions from 17 other federal agencies.

"When they were young teenagers, most of the participants had fairly healthy behaviors," said Christine Bachrach, Ph.D., Chief of NICHD's Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch and project o

Contact: Bob Bock or Marianne Glass Miller
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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