Students' Risky Behavior Improving over Time

Article excerpt

Fewer high school students are engaging in certain high-risk health behaviors today, compared with their counterparts in the early 1990s, according to data from the 2007 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Large numbers of adolescents are still taking risks with their health--from not wearing a seat belt to smoking--but fewer students reported engaging in these behaviors in 2007 than in 1991.

For example, the percentage of students who reported rarely or never wearing a seat belt dropped from 25.9% in 1991 to 11.1% in 2007. Similarly, in 1991, 39.9% of students reported riding in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, compared to 29.1% in 2007.

The survey, conducted every 2 years by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also found decreases between 1991 and 2007 in the percentage of students attempting suicide, the percentage reporting current cigarette use, the percentage reporting current alcohol use, the percentage carrying a weapon in the last 30 days, the percentage who have ever had sexual intercourse, and the percentage who have had intercourse with four or more persons in their lifetime.

However, the survey also found increases in the percentage of students who said they skipped school at least 1 day in the past month because they felt unsafe at school or while traveling to school. The percentage of students who felt unsafe at school increased from 4.4% in 1993, the first year it was reported, to 5.5% in 2007.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is nationally representative sample of high school students in public and private schools throughout the United States. The most recent data are based on 14,103 questionnaires completed by students in 157 schools in the spring of 2007.

While the survey data show improvements over time in many health risk behaviors for students, CDC researchers raised concerns that Hispanic students are at greater risk for certain health-related behaviors than are students in other ethnic groups. Hispanic students have also failed to match the progress of African American and white students in some sexual risk behaviors, said Howell Wechsler, Ed.D., director of CDC's division of adolescent and school health, at a press briefing.

The 2007 results indicate that Hispanic students were more likely than African American or white students to engage in a number of health risk behaviors, including attempting suicide; riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol; using cocaine; and not eating for 24 hours or more to lose or maintain weight.

In addition, the percentage of Hispanic students who had ever had sexual intercourse and the percentage who had had sex with four or more persons during their lifetime has not declined between 1991 and 2007, Mr. Wechsler said. In the meantime, during the same time period there have been significant declines in the percentage of white and black students who have engaged in these behaviors, he said.

The percentage of white students who had ever had sexual intercourse declined from 50% in 1991 to 43.7% in 2007. Among African American students, the percentage who had ever had intercourse dropped from 81. …