Youth Risk Behavior Survey Shows Teens Making Healthier Choices


According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), America’s teens are making healthier choices. For instance, cigarette smoking has reached a significant low amongst high school students. Since 1991, the survey is one that the CDC has been doing every two years.

When the survey was first conducted, 27.5 percent of teens were cigarette smokers. The number reached a peak in 1997 at 36.4 percent. For the most recent survey year, 2013, 15.7 percent reported smoking cigarettes. The official goal by 2020 is 16 percent, which has now been exceeded.

The director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, said that he sees the bottom line as being a matter of teenagers are making a conscious effort to choose health. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is given to over 13,000 students of public and private high schools. The data is compiled along with results from similar surveys done on local and state levels. Frieden said that other progress in picking healthy behavior has been made as well.

Not only are they smoking less, but teens are getting into fewer fights and drinking less soda pop and alcohol. Violent threats and injuries from knives, guns and other weaponry on campuses have gone from the peak of 9.2 percent in 2003 down to 6.9 percent. One area that has not improved, interestingly, is  condom use, which has decreased. It is currently at 59 percent, down from a 63 percent peak in 2003.

Cigar smoking is still popular amongst teen boys, particularly the seniors in high schools, with 23 percent of them having had one within the month prior to taking the survey. Chewing tobacco use has stayed at the same 8 percent since 1999. There was also an increase in the use of hookahs and e-cigarettes noted in some of the surveys. Frieden notes that the decline in cigarette smoking is uneven depending on the locale. He said this reflects varying efforts toward the control of tobacco.

A spokesperson for Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a non-profit in Washington, D.C., Vince Willmore, said that at least the numbers are moving in a direction that shows some improvement. He feels that educational campaigns and higher taxes for cigarettes have helped in this effort. Willmore said that the fight is still continuing. Realistically, there are still 2.7 million teenagers who smoke cigarettes.

The director of the CDC’s division of school and adolescent health, Stephanie Zaza, makes the point that even though there is good news about a lot of what the kids are and are not doing, there is still a void as to why they are or are not doing these risky behaviors. Some of the more interesting results include the following.

The percentage of high school students who have ever tried heroin was 2.3 percent. That number has stayed pretty steady throughout the years of the survey. In some of the larger urban districts, that number can be as high as 7.4 percent.

In 1991, 42 percent of those surveyed had been in physical fights, 16 percent at school. For 2013, those numbers are 25 percent and 8 percent. The time frame was for the 12 months before taking the survey.

In 2007, 34 percent reported drinking at least one soda pop per day. That number is now 27 percent. In 1999, 43 percent said that they watched three hours of television per day. That number for 2013 was 32 percent. In 2003, 22 percent used a computer for recreational purposes for at least three hours per day and in 2013 the number was 41 percent.

Perhaps the most alarming number is the 41 percent who admit to emailing or texting while they drove a car. Though a similar question was asked in 2011, it differed enough that comparing the two numbers would not give a fair representation of whether there was an increase or decrease in occurrences.

Overall, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey has shown improvements in the healthy choices teens are making in this country. Messaging, education and outreach seem to be having a positive effect. It will be interesting to see the results for the 2015 survey.

By Stacy Lamy


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