New research examines association between gun access and adolescent health

April 27, 2019

BALTIMORE - A new study found that personal gun access was associated with depression, suicidal ideation and perceiving school as unsafe, while attending a school where gun access was common was associated with lower odds of perceiving school as unsafe. Findings from the study will be presented during the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2019 Meeting, taking place on April 24 - May 1 in Baltimore.

Recent high-profile shootings have raised awareness of the health effects of both access and exposure to firearms and firearm violence among youth and adolescents. Access to guns and perceived unsafe school environments have been associated with gun-related injury, depression and suicidality among adolescents. Whether widespread acceptance of guns among peers alters these associations, however, is unknown.

When interaction terms were included in the models, the association between individual gun access and suicidal ideation was weaker when attending a school where gun access was more common. Additionally, as access to guns within a school was more common, the odds of poor general health decreased for students with personal gun access but increased for students with no personal gun access.

"For better or for worse, guns are an important part of American culture," said Samantha Chung, one of the authors of the study. "Some studies have shown that having a gun in the home is associated with poor mental health among adolescents. We wanted to study how overall gun access in adolescents' communities might also impact their mental health. We found that it probably does, but the effects are complex and may go in both directions."

The study concluded that gun access is a complex social phenomenon. In an otherwise low-access environment, personal gun access may signify a high-risk physical and mental state. In schools where access to guns is common, however, personal gun access may signify social belonging that might reduce potential negative health effects of guns. Although overall evidence that widespread gun access is harmful remains clear, our findings suggest that nuance based on local cultural norms may be significant.

Chung will present findings from "Gun Access and Adolescent Health: Safety in Numbers?" on Monday, April 29 at 2:15 p.m. EDT. Reporters interested in an interview with Chung should contact PAS2019@piercom.com. Please note that only the abstracts are being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researchers may have additional data to share with media.

The PAS 2019 Meeting brings together thousands of pediatricians and other health care providers to improve the health and well-being of children worldwide. For more information about the PAS 2019 Meeting, please visit http://www.pas-meeting.org.
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About the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting

The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Meeting brings together thousands of pediatricians and other health care providers united by a common mission: to improve the health and well-being of children worldwide. This international gathering includes pediatric researchers, leaders in pediatric academics, clinical care providers and community practitioners. Presentations cover issues of interest to generalists as well as topics critical to a wide array of specialty and sub-specialty areas. The PAS Meeting will be the premier North American scholarly child health meeting. The PAS Meeting is produced through a partnership of four pediatric organizations that are leaders in the advancement of pediatric research and child advocacy: American Pediatric Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Academic Pediatric Association and American Academy of Pediatrics. For more information, please visit http://www.pas-meeting.org. Follow us on Twitter @PASMeeting and #PAS2019, and like us on Facebook.

Abstract: Gun Access and Adolescent Health: Safety in Numbers?

Background: Recent high-profile shootings have raised awareness of the health effects of both access and exposure to firearms and firearm violence among youth and adolescents. Access to guns and perceived unsafe school environments have been associated with gun-related injury, depression, and suicidality among adolescents. Whether widespread acceptance of guns among peers alters these associations, however, is unknown.

Objective: To examine in a nationally representative sample of adolescents whether peer acceptance of guns (measured by the percent of students in one's school with personal gun access) moderates associations between one's own gun access and general health, depression, suicidality, and perceived school safety.

Design/Methods: We used the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) Wave I youth surveys to assess both individual-level (e.g., personal gun access) and school-level (e.g., proportion of students at school with access to a gun) variables. We used weighted multilevel analyses with interactions to determine the associations among personal gun access, school-level proportion of gun access, and adolescent depression, suicidal ideation, self-rated health, and perceived school safety, controlling for demographics and school characteristics.

Results: We found that personal gun access was associated with depression (OR 1.21 p=0.03, suicidal ideation (OR 1.74, p<0.001) and perceiving school as unsafe (OR 1.60, p<0.001) while, contrary to our hypothesis, attending a school where gun access was common was associated with a lower odds of perceiving school as unsafe (OR 0.83, p=0.003). When interaction terms were included in the models, the association between individual gun access and suicidal ideation was weaker when attending a school where gun access was more common. Additionally, as access to guns within a school was more common, the odds of poor general health decreased for students with personal gun access but increased for students with no personal gun access.

Conclusion(s): Gun access is a complex social phenomenon. In an otherwise low-access environment, personal gun access may signify a high-risk physical and mental state. In schools where access to guns is common, however, personal gun access may signify social belonging that might reduce potential negative health effects of guns. Although overall evidence that widespread gun access is harmful remains clear, our findings suggest that nuance based on local cultural norms may be significant.

Authors (Last Name, First Name): Chung, Samantha H.; Biely, Christopher; Dudovitz, Rebecca

Authors/Institutions: C. Biely, R. Dudovitz, Pediatrics, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, UNITED STATES|S.H. Chung, Marlborough High School, Los Angeles, California, UNITED STATES

Pediatric Academic Societies

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