Areca nut chewing in schoolchildren
Eric Oakley, L. Demaine, & Saman Warnakulasuriya
To investigate the prevalence of its use by high-school children in Saipan in Micronesia. Usage of the areca nut is indigenous to south Asia and the western and south Pacific. Some serious health effects of areca nut chewing are recognized and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has recently classified regular use of areca nut as being carcinogenic to humans. Information on usage by young people, however, is scarce.
Data on consumption of areca nut were obtained by a self-administered questionnaire. Following an oral mucosal examination using WHO criteria any detectable oral mucosal diseases were recorded.
Of 309 schoolchildren surveyed (mean age 16.3 ± 1.5 years), 63.4% claimed regular use, the highest level recorded in any school population survey. Significant oral diseases detected were oral leukoplakia in 13% and oral submucous fibrosis in 8.8% of children.
These findings from Saipan suggest that areca nut chewing starts at a young age in Micronesia. As many users develop dependency this raises important concerns regarding its consequences for oral health.