Smoking prevalence and knowledge of associated risks in adult attenders at day centres for people with learning disabilities.

Background: Increased longevity among people with learning disabilities is accompanied by an increase in morbidity. A possible explanation is that living in the community and a move to greater independence may bring higher health risks through obesity and smoking. The study aimed to see if rates of smoking have increased from earlier published rates and to ascertain the awareness of the risks of smoking among people with learning disabilities.

Methods: A total of 435 people attending four social services day centres in a large urban area were assisted to complete a questionnaire.

Results: Twenty-seven (6.2%) reported that they currently smoked. Those with mild disabilities were much more likely to smoke than those with more severe disabilities and they also reported smoking more heavily. For those with mild levels of learning disability, a higher than expected proportion living in hospital and staffed housing smoked, a lower proportion living with parents smoked but for those living independently the proportion who smoked was no higher than expected. Smokers were more knowledgeable about the risks than non-smokers even if the level of learning disability was controlled for. Only a third of smokers were concerned about the risks.

Conclusion: The study provides no evidence that rates of smoking are increasing among people with learning disabilities nor that those living independently were more likely to smoke. Knowledge of health risks is poor across the group, but higher among the smokers who were unlikely to express concern about the risks. This may indicate that more support may be needed along with health education in this group.