Children Exposed to Tobacco Smoke Have Higher Healthcare Utilization

Children who live with smokers end up in the doctor’s office or hospital more often than those not exposed to tobacco smoke, according to new research.
Published Online: May 15, 2016
Priyam Vora
Children who live with smokers end up in the doctor’s office or hospital more often than those not exposed to tobacco smoke, according to new research that was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting. The new research finds that even passive exposure to tobacco smoke in the home increases childhood illnesses and that children living with smokers need medical care more frequently.
 
The analysis, titled Tobacco Smoke Exposure and Health Care Utilization among Children Nationwide, compared patterns of healthcare utilization among children who did or did not live with smokers. The research team, led by Ashley Merianos, PhD, used a nationally representative sample of children aged 0-17 years for the study. Data was used from the 2011-2012 National Survey on Children’s Health, which is conducted by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. The final study included 95,677 children.
 
The researchers found that a total of 24% of the children in the study, corresponding to a weighted total of 17.6 million children across the United States, lived with smokers. About 5% of the children lived with someone who smokes inside the home. This figure would be equivalent to a weighted sum of 3.6 million US children.
 
Researchers said that children who lived with a smoker or who had exposure to tobacco smoke inside the home were significantly more likely to have had any medical care visit, including sick care. At the same time, these kids were considerably less likely to have had any dental care visits.
 
Tobacco smoke exposure has been consistently associated with an increased prevalence of physical health consequences for children. Tobacco smoke exposure-related illnesses represent a great proportion of preventable childhood morbidity and may contribute to increased demand for healthcare services.
 
The number of children who lived with a smoker or were exposed to tobacco smoke inside the home was significantly high, and even the number of children who received sick care or health advice at a pediatric emergency department is alarming, according to the researchers. This setting may be a potential venue for health messages to inform caregivers about the dangers of tobacco smoke exposure for children.
 
“Our findings indicate that tobacco smoke exposure has a significant impact on demand for health care services,” Merianos said. “Settings with a high volume of children exposed to tobacco smoke at home, including pediatric emergency departments, could serve as effective outlets for health messages to inform caregivers about the dangers of smoking around children and help decrease these potentially preventable tobacco smoke exposure-related visits and associated costs.”

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