Objectives. We sought to determine the prevalence and sociodemographic characteristics of tattooed adolescents in a nationally representative sample and to evaluate the association between tattooing and several high-risk behaviors.
Methods. This is a secondary analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health Public Use Dataset, which provides a nationally representative sample of 6072 adolescents collected in 1995 and 1996. The association among permanent tattoos, sociodemographic factors, and high-risk behaviors was evaluated using bivariate and logistic regression analyses using SUDAAN.
Results. Of the total sample of youths, 4.5% reported having permanent tattoos. Tattooing was significantly associated with older age, living in a single-parent household, and lower socioeconomic status but was not significantly associated with gender, ethnicity, or neighborhood type. Tattooing was strongly associated with peer substance use. Adjusting for sociodemographic factors and peer substance use, tattooing in adolescents was independently and significantly associated with reported sexual intercourse, substance use, violent behaviors, and school problems.
Conclusion. Permanent tattoos are strongly associated with high-risk behaviors among adolescents. In the clinical setting, the presence of a tattoo noted during clinical examination of an adolescent should prompt in-depth assessment for a variety of high-risk behaviors.