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Teenagers fearing early death more likely to be wayward: Study

world Updated: Jun 29, 2009 17:34 IST

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One in seven American adolescents fearing early death, that is before 35 years, are likely to engage in risky behaviours, according to a latest study.

Iris Borowsky and colleagues from the University of Minnesota Medical School (UMMS) analysed a sample of more than 20,000 youngters in grades seven through 12 during three separate study years. The data was collected by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

In the first set of interviews, nearly 15 percent of adolescents predicted they had a 50-50 chance or less of living to age 35.

Those who engaged in risky behaviours such as illicit drug use, suicide attempts, fighting, or unsafe sexual activity in the first year were more likely in subsequent years to believe they would die at a young age.

Conversely, those who predicted that they'd die young during the first interview were more likely in later years to begin engaging in these risky behaviours and have poor health outcomes.

Notably, these teenagers were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS just six years later, regardless of their sexual preference.

"While conventional wisdom says that teens engage in risky behaviours because they feel invulnerable to harm, this study suggests that in some cases, teens take risks because they overestimate their vulnerability, specifically their risk of dying," Borowsky said.

"These youth may take risks because they feel hopeless and figure that not much is at stake," she said.

Nearly 25 per cent of youth living in households receiving dole and more than 29 per cent of American-Indian, 26 percent of African-American, 21 percent of Hispanic, and 15 percent of Asian youth reported believing they would die young - compared to just 10 percent of their Caucasian peers, according to an UMMS release.

There was no significant relationship between perceived risk of dying before age 35 and actual death from all causes during the six-year study period.