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Teen-age Trends of Risky Behavior a 'Mixed Bag'

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WebMD Health News

June 8, 2000 -- As any parent knows, getting teens to listen to an adult message is difficult at best. But in some areas of risky behavior, it seems the tide may be turning, according to a new government report.

It's called the youth risk behavior surveillance system report, and the CDC releases it every two years. The most recent report compiles information from 1999. Since 1991, the statistics show risky sexual behavior is down, while other activities like smoking and drug and alcohol use continue, for the most part, to stay the same or increase.

The results "are probably more of a mixed bag," says Laura Kann, PhD, lead author of the report. "We see the prevalence of many injury-related behaviors, and sexual behaviors are improving among high school students. ... At the same time, all the rates are too high, and some are actually heading in the other direction." Kann is chief of the surveillance and evaluation research branch at the CDC's division of adolescent and school health.

More than 15,000 students in grades nine through 12 nationwide completed surveys that covered six areas of health risk behavior: intentional and unintentional injuries, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behaviors, dietary behaviors, and physical activity.

Nationwide, about half the teens reported having had sex, but that was down about 8% from 1991. The percentages also dropped slightly among those who were more sexually active, meaning they had four or more sexual partners. Condom use increased 26%.

"The percentage of kids who've ever had sex is down, and, simultaneously, the percent of those who use a condom is increasing, and that's a really nice combination because it means, overall, we've got less kids at risk for things like unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection," Kann tells WebMD.

The number of teens learning about HIV and AIDS in school also increased. "It's real clear an awful lot of people have been very committed to addressing sexual risk behaviors among kids. Families, schools, community organizations, and kids themselves have worked collectively for many years now to address this problem, and consequently we are seeing some improvements," Kann says.

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