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12-06-2012 | Article

Many US youths ’risk takers’



MedWire News: Many US teens and young adults are taking their health for granted and engaging in risky behaviors, suggest results of an annual survey.

A report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) reveals that in the month before the survey was completed, 32.8% of US high school students reported texting or sending emails while driving, 38.7% said they drank alcohol, and 23.1% reported smoking marijuana.

Additionally, a substantial number of high-school students were exposed to violence in the previous year, with 32.8% reporting having been in a physical fight, 20.1% saying they had been bullied at least once on school property, and 7.8% reporting suicide attempts.

The current YRBSS report covers September 2010 through December 2011, using data from the CDC, state, and local education and health agencies. It reports on the current state of health-risk behaviors of concern among preteens, adolescents, and young adults (ages 10 to 24 years).

The categories include: behaviors contributing to unintentional injuries and violence; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contributing to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), including HIV/AIDS; unhealthy diets; and physical inactivity. The YRBSS also monitors the prevalence of obesity and asthma.

Other findings included that nearly half (47.4%) of all teens reported ever having sexual intercourse, and one-third (33.7%) of all students reported having sex within the past 3 months. Additionally, 15.3% said they had sex with four or more partners. Of those having intercourse, only 60.2% reported using a condom during their most recent encounters.

Many US youths are also smoking too much (18.1% of high school students say they had smoked cigarettes in the 30 days before the survey, and 7.7% reported using smokeless tobacco), not getting enough fruits and vegetables in the diet (4.8% had not eaten fruit or drunk a 100% fruit juice in the past month, and 5.7% eschewed vegetables), or enough exercise (31.1% had played a video/computer games for 3 or more hours on an average school day).

The good news, the authors report, is that some risky behaviors are declining in frequency over time. For example, in 1991 26% of high school students said they never or rarely used seatbelts, compared with only 8% in 2011. In 1997, 17% said they drove a car when they had been drinking alcohol, compared with 8% in 2011, and the percentage of those who said they had ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking dropped from 40% in 1991 to 24% in 2011.

"We are encouraged that more of today's high school students are choosing healthier, safer behaviors, such as wearing seat belts, and are avoiding behaviors that we know can cause them harm, such as binge drinking or riding with impaired drivers," said Howell Wechsler (Division of Adolescent and School Health, CDC, Atlanta, Georgia), in a press statement.

"However, these findings also show that despite improvements, there is a continued need for government agencies, community organizations, schools, parents, and other community members to work together to address the range of risk behaviors prevalent among our youth."

By Neil Osterweil