For Immediate Release

EMBARGOED AJPH research: Teen driving and marijuana use, social isolation's mortality risk, gun ownership and homicides

In this month’s release, find new research about the rising number of high school seniors who drive and ride after using marijuana; the mortality risk of being socially isolated; and gun ownership’s link to gun-related homicides.

EMBARGOED UNTIL September 12, 2013, 4 p.m. (EDT)

CONTACT: For copies of articles or full table of contents of this month’s released studies, call Kim Short, 202-777-2511, or email her.

American Journal of Public Health highlights:

1.    More than a quarter of high school seniors drive after using alcohol or drugs, or ride with a driver who has; driving after marijuana use on the rise

2.    Social isolation may predict mortality as accurately as smoking

3.    More gun ownership linked to more gun-related homicides

More than a quarter of high school seniors drive after using alcohol or drugs, or ride with a driver who has; driving after marijuana use on the rise
A new study in the American Journal of Public Health finds that 28 percent of U.S. high school seniors have driven after using drugs or drinking alcohol in the past two weeks, or ridden in a vehicle with a driver who did. In particular, driving after smoking marijuana has increased over the past three years.

The data came from the Monitoring the Future project, which collects survey responses from 17,000 high school seniors annually. Researchers analyzed data from a portion of these results captured between 2001 and 2011. Questions inquired about the frequency of operating a vehicle after using drugs or drinking alcohol, the frequency of riding in a car with a driver who did, and additional demographic information. The study was sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Results indicated that more than a quarter of high school seniors report riding in a car with someone driving after using drugs or alcohol  or driving after using drugs or alcohol themselves. And while the prevalence has decreased since 2001, when 32 percent of seniors reported this behavior, the most recent three years have shown an increase in driving after using marijuana, which rose from 10 percent in 2008 to 12 percent in 2011.While males were more likely to drive after using drugs or drinking alcohol, there were no significant gender differences between those who rode in cars with drivers who had been using drugs or alcohol.

“Despite some considerable progress in reducing driving after using drugs or alcohol or riding with a driver who had done so, driving or riding after marijuana use is on the rise,” the authors explained. “It is also ubiquitous throughout society, socioeconomically and geographically.”

[“Driving After Drug or Alcohol Use by American High School Seniors, 2001-2011.” Contact: Patrick M. O’Malley, PhD, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.]

Social isolation may predict mortality as accurately as smoking
New research from the American Journal of Public Health finds that being socially isolated can predict mortality as well as known clinical risk factors such as smoking, obesity or high cholesterol.

Using data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the National Death Index, researchers analyzed occurrences of social isolation alongside instances of clinical risk factors and mortality data. Social isolation was evaluated by reviewing an individual’s marital or partnership status, frequency of contact with other people, participation in religious activities and participation in other club or organization activities. 

The study finds that being socially isolated is associated with an increased risk of death among men and women. Furthermore, social isolation operates as a predictor of mortality similar to smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Besides being socially isolated in general, being unmarried and infrequent religious activity also individually predicted mortality among men and women.

“Our findings highlight the value of isolation as a risk factor for mortality, and emphasize the clinical importance of understanding a patient’s social integration and support,” wrote the authors.

[“Social Isolation: A Predictor of Mortality Comparable to Traditional Clinical Risk Factors.” Contact: Matthew Pantell, MD, MS, Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco]

More gun ownership linked to more gun-related homicides
According to a new study from the American Journal of Public Heath, U.S. states with higher rates of gun ownership experience a higher number of firearm-related homicides.

Using data from 1981 to 2010, researchers analyzed each state’s instances of firearm- related homicides in relation to their level of gun ownership. Homicide rates were collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting Systems database, while household firearm ownership was captured through a proxy measurement and, for certain years, survey data. Various factors known to be related to homicide rates were also controlled for, including a state’s proportion of young people and level of urbanization.

Results indicated that states with higher levels of household gun ownership also show a higher number of firearm-related homicides even when factors typically associated with homicides are controlled for.

“Understanding the relationship between the prevalence of gun ownership and therefore the availability of guns and firearm-related mortality is critical to guiding decisions regarding recently proposed measures to address firearm violence,” the authors conclude.

[“The Relationship Between Gun Ownership and Firearm Homicide Rates in the United States, 1981-2010.” Contact: Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston]  

The articles above will be published online Sept. 12, 2013, at 4 p.m. (EDT)* by the American Journal of Public Health® under “First Look.”  “First Look” articles have undergone peer review, copyediting and approval by authors but have not yet been printed to paper or posted online by issue. The American Journal of Public Health is published by the American Public Health Association.

The American Journal of Public Health ® is the monthly journal of the American Public Health Association, the oldest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world. APHA is a leading publisher of books and periodicals promoting sound scientific standards, action programs and public policy to enhance health.

Complimentary online access to the Journal is available to credentialed members of the media. Address inquiries to Kimberly Short at APHA, 202-777-2511, or via email. A single print issue of the Journal is available for $35 from the Journal’s Subscriptions department. If you are not a member of the press, a member of APHA or a subscriber, online single issue access is $30, and online single article access is $22. For direct customer service, call 202-777-2516, or email us.

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