Certain risky health behaviors of high school students such as marijuana use and distracted driving continue to pose a public health challenge, according to a report released yesterday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, improvements are being seen in other areas, such as cigarette smoking and alcohol use.
The findings are from the CDC’s 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationwide school-based survey of more than 13 000 high school students in 42 states conducted every 2 years since 1991. The survey focuses on 6 categories of risky health behaviors among youth and young adults: behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence, tobacco use, alcohol and drug use, unsafe sex behaviors, unhealthy dietary behaviors, and physical inactivity.
Examples of risky behaviors that remain an ongoing concern include the following:
- Marijuana use remains high, with 40.7% of students reporting ever having used marijuana and almost a quarter of students (23%) reporting using marijuana at least once in past 30 days. These numbers are unchanged since 2011 but reflect a significant increase since the CDC began the annual survey in 1991.
- Texting or emailing while driving also remains common, with 41% of students claiming to have done so within the past 30 days.
- Wearing bicycle helmets remains uncommon, with 87.9% of students reporting “never or rarely” using a helmet. This percentage has been slowly but steadily climbing since 2005.
- Although the percentage of students reporting being sexually active has remained unchanged at 34% since 2003, the percentage of those using condoms decreased from 63% in 2003 to 59% in 2013.
Examples of areas of progress include the following:
- Cigarette smoking among high school students is at an all-time low since 1991, with 5.6% of students reporting frequent smoking (≥20 days in the last 30 days), and 15.7% of students reporting current smoking (≥1 day in the last 30 days). In 1991, these numbers were 12.7% for frequent smoking and 27.5% for current smoking. In fact, this 15.7% already meets the CDC’s Healthy People 2020 goals for reducing adolescent cigarette use to 16% or less. However, when expanded to all tobacco products, current reported use was 22.4%. Furthermore, e-cigarettes, which recent evidence suggests is a growing concern, were not specifically mentioned in the survey.
- Alcohol use continues to decrease, with 34.9% of high school students reporting current alcohol use (≥1 day in the last 30 days). This again represents the lowest rate since 1991, when 50.8% of students reported current alcohol use.
- Electronic bullying decreased slightly since 2011 (the first year it was included in the survey), from 16.2% to 14.8%.
Fact sheets with more information and summaries of trends since 1991 can be found here on the CDC website.