A new study from Sweden reveals that having low peer status in adolescence is a strong risk factor for regular and heavy smoking in adulthood. Researchers from Stockholm University in Sweden used a large database that followed the lives of more than 15,000 Swedes, 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 indicate that the lower a young person's status is among his or her school peers, the more likely that person is to become a regular (less than 20 cigarettes per day) or heavy (20+ cigarettes) smoker in adulthood.
Unlike some previous studies of peer status and health-related behaviours, this study benefited from an objective measure of peer status, in that the 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 from each school, the researchers identified individuals nominated 0 times by their classmates (marginalised students), 1 time (peripheral), 2-3 times (accepted), 4-6 times (popular), and 7+ times (class favourites). Students with few nominations were assumed to be less accepted and respected within the group and to have fewer friends.