Middle-school kids who participate in lots of sports are less likely to start smoking than other kids, new research finds.
Yet, students with teammates who smoke are more likely to smoke, too. This apparent influence of peers is more pronounced among girls.
"This result suggests that peers on athletic teams influence the smoking behavior of others even though there might be a protective effect overall of increased participation in athletics on smoking," study leader Kayo Fujimoto, who conducted the research while at the University of Southern California, said in a journal news release.
Researchers questioned 1,260 sixth through eighth graders about their smoking behavior. The children were middle class, lived in urban areas and ethnically diverse.
The study, appearing Feb. 8 in Child Development, found that the more sports the kids played, the less likely they were to smoke.
The authors suggested their findings could be used to improve anti-smoking programs targeting children.
"Current guidelines recommend the use of peer leaders selected within the class to implement such programs," said Fujimoto. "The findings of this study suggest that peer-led interactive programs should be expanded to include sports teams as well."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on youth and tobacco use.