Should tattoos or piercings ring alarm bells ?

Should tattoos or piercings ring alarm bells?
(Thursday, 16th January 2003)

Study shows tattoos linked to other high risk behaviour in teens

Young people who have tattoos are at risk for other high risk behaviour, such as taking drugs, fighting, or risky sex, according to research conducted in the US and published in the journal Pediatrics.

You have to be 18 or over to have a tattoo in the UK, but in America laws vary widely from state to state. In some states tattooing is illegal, but in others there is no regulation at all. Most states fall between these extremes, making tattooing legal for the over-18s, but requiring under-18s to have written parental consent first.

This study showed that young people who have tattoos were more likely to live in a single-parent household and to come from poorer families than those without tattoos. They were also more likely to report drug taking, having sex at a young age, and problems at school. These findings are similar to those of a previous study.

The findings were based on a national survey of US adolescents, aged 11-21 years. Over 6,000 young people were asked about their health and lifestyle.

The authors of this study urge doctors to assess young people with tattoos for other high risk behaviour. However, as tattooing in under-18s is illegal in the UK, the findings may be more applicable to body piercing, as another US study recently found.

Body piercing is not regulated at all in the UK, and it is therefore legal for young people of any age. Body piercers don't even have to register with their local council or have health and safety inspections, which is worrying in terms of the health risks. This has prompted calls for more legislation to protect the public.

Full review:

Research published in Pediatrics has shown that permanent tattoos are strongly associated with high risk behaviour in adolescents, and should be a warning sign for doctors.

UK law states that it is illegal to tattoo anyone under the age of 18, but in America laws vary widely from state to state. In some states tattooing is illegal, but in others there is no regulation at all. Most states fall between these extremes, making tattooing legal for the over-18s, but requiring under-18s to have written parental consent first.

The researchers used data from a national survey of US adolescents, aged 11-21 years. A representative sample of 6,072 young people were recruited to the study in 1995 and 1996. The participants were asked a range of questions relating to their health and lifestyle, and information on sociodemographic factors was also collected.

The researchers found:

* 4.5% had permanent tattoos
* Tattooing was significantly associated with older age, living in a single-parent household, lower socioeconomic status, and peer substance misuse
* Tattooing was also strongly associated with reported sexual intercourse, substance misuse, violent behaviour, and school problems.

The researchers concluded that tattoos in adolescents are strongly associated with high risk behaviour. They added that doctors who notice tattoos in young people should conduct an in-depth assessment for other risks.

These findings could be applicable to body piercing in the UK. There are, as yet, no regulations for body piercing, and it is therefore legal for young people of any age.

REF: Roberts T and Ryan S. Tattooing and high-risk behavior in adolescents. Pediatrics 2002; 110: 1058-1063

Pediatrics website
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