Study finds children's doctors not
asking parents about smoking
Missing opportunity to improve health
of children and parents
BALTIMORE, May 6, 2002 -Parental smoking creates significant
health risks for children; but are pediatricians and family practitioners
doing anything about it? That's the question addressed by a study
presented during the 2002 Pediatric Academic Societies' Meeting.
"Parental smoking is a huge issue in terms of costs for children.
The list of health problems is tremendously long," says lead
author Jonathan P. Winickoff, MD, MPH, of the Center for Child and
Adolescent Health Policy at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. He
lists sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, middle ear
infections, asthma and decreased lung growth as some of the effects
on children of parental smoking and also notes the negative economic
impact of parents' spending a large percentage of their income on
Winickoff and his colleagues surveyed over 3,000 individuals by
telephone, inquiring whether pediatricians or family practitioners
asked them during regular visits whether household members smoked.
Of those surveyed, 903 were parents whose children had been seen
by pediatricians or family practitioners in the past year. About
half of those reported that they had been asked about household
member smoking status at their physician's office.
"This highlights that things need to improve," says Winickoff.
"Here we have this wonderful opportunity to have a positive
effect on the issue of smoking in the family, and there's not enough
About a third of parents reported that their children's physicians
inquired whether they had any rules prohibiting smoking in the home.
Fewer than half of parental smokers reported being counseled about
the dangers of second-hand smoke or the risks of setting an example
for their children by smoking. "If you have rules about smoking,
the child is less likely to grow up to be a smoker," argues
Winickoff. "As physicians, we should ask and teach parents
about the importance of smoking rules. If we don't ask, we can't
Winickoff hopes that pediatricians and family practitioners will
take better advantage of their unique position in order to help
parents discourage their kids from smoking.
Winickoff's research was a collaboration with Robert C. McMillen,
PhD, of the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State
University and Jonathan D. Klein, MD, MPH, and Michael Weitzman,
MD, of the AAP Center for Child Health Research and Strong Children's
Research Center at the University of Rochester. Winickoff's work
is funded through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
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