Teen Smokers At Risk of Osteoporosis

Smoking at a young age can increase your risk of osteoporosis and spinal pain, according to recent research.

Earlier studies have shown that smoking, anxiety, and depression can decrease bone mineral density in adults, which elevates the risk of the brittle-bone disease, osteoporosis. However little research has examined the effects of such factors in teens.

In new study from Journal of Adolescent Health, 262 girls between the ages of 11 and 19 were given annual clinical exams. Doctors used dual energy x-ray absorptiometry to measure the bone mineral density in girls' hips and lumbar spines. Girls also reported their cigarette use in phone interviews, and were evaluated for depression and anxiety.

Although all girls entered adolescence with similar bone mineral densities, the numbers changed overtime. Girls who smoked or showed signs of depression had significantly less bone growth.

This is concerning since 50% of bone growth occurs during adolescence. In the first two years after a girl's first menstrual period, as much bone develops as is lost in the last four decades of life. Any factor hindering this bone development during adolescence could substantially weaken girls' bones.

But girls don't have to wait until their fifties to begin experiencing the consequences of smoking. Another new study shows that like adults, teens who smoke have a higher risk of spinal pain.

The study included 1,291 teens from Australia between the ages of 14-17 years old. After controlling for a number of psychosocial factors, the researchers found a bi-directional relationship between smoking and spinal pain in adolescence. Having back pain at age 14 predicted cigarette use at age 17, and teens who smoked at age 14 often developed mid-back pain by the time they were 17.

Warnings about the future health risks don't always to prevent teens from smoking. But perhaps knowing they could experience debilitating back pack in a year's time will change their mind. In meantime, health-care providers should take steps to encourage smoking cessation and treatment of depressive symptoms in teens in effort to reduce the risk of bone and spinal problems.


Dorn, L, et al. Longitudinal impact of substance use and depressive symptoms on bone accrual among girls aged 11-19 years. Journal of Adolescent Health 2013; 52(4): 393-399.

Gill DK, et al. Bidirectional relationships between cigarette use and spinal pain in adolescents accounting for psychosocial functioning. British Journal of Health Psychology 2013; doi 10.1111/bjhp.12039. [Epub ahead of print].