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London - Films and old TV shows may have portrayed smokers as part of the high school elite, but research has shown it is the “nerds” who are most likely to pick up the habit.
A study from Sweden has revealed that having a low peer status as a teenager is a strong risk factor for regular and heavy smoking in adulthood.
The lower a person’s street cred was at school, the more likely they were to continue the unhealthy habit later on.
Researchers from Stockholm University in Sweden used a large database that followed 15 000 people, mainly from the Stockholm area, from birth to middle age.
The researchers isolated 2 329 people who were interviewed once at age 13 about peer status at school and again at age 32 about their smoking habits. The results found a direct correlation between low popularity and smoking.
The study benefited from an objective measure of peer status, as students were not asked to assess their own status but instead nominated the three classmates they “best liked to work with at school”.
By checking the responses of all classmates, the researchers identified students from the marginalised to the favourites.
Students with few nominations were assumed to be less accepted and respected within the group and to have fewer friends.
There are several possible reasons why low status children grow up to become smokers. Unpopular teens may come to believe in their low status, which may influence unhealthy life choices.
Marginalised people may be more likely to adopt controversial behaviours, such as smoking, while “favourites” conform to social expectations of good behaviour.
Unaccepted youngsters may take up smoking in school as a bid for attention or popularity, with the habit continuing into adulthood. – Daily Mail