Betel-Nut Among Youth in Yap & Pohnpei

A survey of a hundred 7th and 8th graders from the states of Yap and Pohnpei was conducted in November of 2012 concerning the use of Areca, commonly known as betel nut. Betel nut is classified as a carcinogenic, meaning that it has the potential to cause cancer.

The survey included a written questionnaire and oral examinations. The questionnaire asked about the students’ exposure, contact, and use of the drug. The oral examinations conducted by trainees “assessed inflammatory (red or white) changes in the cheeks, tongue or gingiva; stains on the teeth, dental caries; soft tissue abscesses caused by dental caries.”

Final results of the questionnaire showed that about half of the students in Yap and Pohnpei used betel nut at least once a week in the past month. In both states, the age that most of the students had first used betel nut was 11, and 25 percent of them said that they tried the drug as early as age 9. Peer influences were strong in both states.

The oral examination results revealed that about 70 percent of the betel nut users who were surveyed in Pohnpei had “serious teeth decay”, where the same results showed in about 35 percent of the users in Yap.

Studies also showed that betel nut was rarely bought by those surveyed. Access to the drug at a young age by peers and family members resulted in the beginning of use.

Continued use of betel nut may result in health issues, most notably cancer. More research and study needs to be conducted to address the drug’s accessibility and influence. Researchers need to consider the individuals, peers, and the cultures or communities as determinants of access and influence.

1. Harm Reduction Journal. Areca Use Among Adolescents in Yap and Pohnpei, the Federated States of Micronesia.