CDC: Indian mothers heaviest smokers
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American Indian women have the highest rate of smoking during pregnancy in the country -- a statistic that hasn't changed much over the past 10 years despite improvements made by the other racial and ethnic groups, according to a study released on Tuesday.

Although smoking by pregnant woman has declined by one-third in the 1990s, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the trend did not apply to Indian mothers. In 1999, 20.0 percent of American Indian women smoked during pregnancy, down only slightly from 22.4 percent in 1990.

And the data released does not include a number of states with significant Indian populations. California, which has the largest number of Native Americans of any state, and South Dakota, a Plains state where smoking among Indian women is considered high, were not included at all.

Different factors contributed to high smoking among Indian women, according to the CDC. Women who haven't completed high school were more likely to have smoked during pregnancy, although this factor was more noticeable among non-Hispanic white mothers.

While Indian mothers under the age of 24 were less likely to smoke than non-Hispanic white mothers of the same age group, rates among older Indian women were significantly higher than their counterparts. Women who were born outside in the United States were also more likely to have smoked, said the CDC.

Smoking among teenage Indian mothers wasn't as high as non-Hispanic whites. But again, the rate hasn't changed significantly compared to other ethnic groups, dropping just 9 percentage points.

The statistics released yesterday mirror others that show Indian women are the heaviest smokers in the nation despite being the smallest percentage of the population. In March, the Surgeon General released a report showing that 34.5 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women reported smoking from 1997 to 1998.

Smoking among Indian women is largely a regional phenomenon, according to health experts. Native women in the Plains, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska report higher usage of tobacco than their counterparts in the Southwest, for instance.

In some areas, women outnumber male smokers in Indian Country. About 54 percent of Indian women in the Northwest smoke, compared to 46 percent of Indian men, according to the Portland Area Indian Health Board of Oregon.

Indian mothers in Oregon have the highest rate in the country of smoking, says the health board. About 33 percent of mothers in the state reported smoking during pregnancy.

Smoking during pregnancy can lead to a number of health consequences, including low birthweight. Indian mothers who smoked during pregnancy showed higher rates of low birthweight than those who didn't, according to yesterday's study.

Of the report, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said: "While the overall trend is encouraging, it's clear that we must do more to ensure young women understand smoking's real health risks for them and for their children."

Data collected for the study was self-reported. Doctors and nurses ask women if they smoked during pregnancy and record it on a birth certificate.

Get the Study:
Smoking during pregnancy in the 1990s (NVSR No. 49, No. 7. 15 pp. (PHS) 2001-1120. August 2001)

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