Community effort brings lasting drop in smoking, delinquency, drug use

October 3, 2011

Delaying the age when kids try alcohol or smoking decreases the likelihood that they will become dependent later in life. Effective interventions exist, but community disagreements about which programs to try can stymie decisions.

Communities That Care, a prevention system developed by University of Washington researchers, leads through the decision-making process, facilitating evidence-based choices of prevention programs known to work.

The researchers' latest study shows that tenth graders in towns using Communities That Care were less likely to have tried drinking or smoking compared with teens living in towns that had not adopted the system. Delinquent behavior, including stealing, vandalism and physical fights, decreased too.

"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," said J. David Hawkins, lead author and director of the study and founding director of the UW's Social Development Research Group, affiliated with the UW School of Social Work.

The study was published online Oct. 3 in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

For five years, Hawkins and his colleagues tracked the behaviors of 4,407 youths growing up in 24 small- to moderate-size towns in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Half of the towns had been randomly assigned to receive training in the Communities That Care system and were compared with towns of similar size and demographics that were not using the system.

In Communities That Care towns, kids in fifth through ninth grades participated in programs aimed to mitigate risk factors such as family conflict, low commitment to school and academic difficulties. The programs were chosen by a community coalition in each town from a list of preventive interventions known to work.

The list was compiled by the UW researchers, who instructed the towns to choose programs based on surveys of community students that identified the particular risk factors most prevalent in their community.

"This is so they don't waste their time and money on programs that aren't effective," said Sabrina Oesterle, co-author of the paper and research associate professor in the UW School of Social Work. "This is an approach that can have sustained improvements in teen outcomes community-wide."

The current study uses survey results from students followed from fifth grade through the end of tenth grade, a year after external support for Communities That Care ended. Teens growing up in the towns using the prevention system had half the odds of ever having smoked a cigarette by tenth grade and had 21 percent lower odds of currently smoking in tenth grade compared with teens growing up in the towns without the system. They also had 38 percent lower odds of ever trying and 21 percent lower odds of initiating delinquent behavior by tenth grade.

The tenth graders in the Communities That Care towns also reported 17 percent lower odds of engaging in , such as stealing, and selling drugs, and 25 percent lower odds of engaging in , including physical fights.

"We want to do the right thing to help our kids grow up to be healthy and lead productive lives, but historically, we haven't demanded that the programs that we employ to do this are tested and proven effective," said Hawkins, who developed Communities That Care with Richard Catalano, a co-author and director of the Social Development Research Group.

"This is a systematic way for coalitions of stakeholders to evaluate the risks to youths in their communities, and choose effective to promote the well being of their teens," Hawkins said.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Artificial light from digital devices lessens sleep quality

July 28, 2017
There's no doubt we love our digital devices at all hours, including after the sun goes down. Who hasn't snuggled up with a smart phone, tablet or watched their flat screen TV from the comfort of bed? A new study by researchers ...

Study finds walnuts may promote health by changing gut bacteria

July 28, 2017
Research led by Lauri Byerley, PhD, RD, Research Associate Professor of Physiology at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, has found that walnuts in the diet change the makeup of bacteria in the gut, which suggests ...

Could insufficient sleep be adding centimeters to your waistline?

July 27, 2017
Adults in the UK who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight and obese and have poorer metabolic health, according to a new study.

Sugar not so sweet for mental health

July 27, 2017
Sugar may be bad not only for your teeth and your waistline, but also your mental health, claimed a study Thursday that was met with scepticism by other experts.

Vitamin E-deficient embryos are cognitively impaired even after diet improves

July 27, 2017
Zebrafish deficient in vitamin E produce offspring beset by behavioral impairment and metabolic problems, new research at Oregon State University shows.

The role of dosage in assessing risk of hormone therapy for menopause

July 27, 2017
When it comes to assessing the risk of estrogen therapy for menopause, how the therapy is delivered—taking a pill versus wearing a patch on one's skin—doesn't affect risk or benefit, researchers at UCLA and elsewhere ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.