Teen-age Trends of Risky Behavior a 'Mixed Bag'
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
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
"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,"
But four out of 10 students were still not using sexual protection, and the
rates for tobacco and drug use went in the opposite direction of sexual
behavior. Current marijuana use almost doubled to about one in four students,
and those that had at least tried marijuana once in their lifetime was up by
50%. Although current cocaine use was lower, at 4% of the teens, that number
had more than doubled since 1991. The number of teens that had at least tried
cocaine also was up significantly.
Current and frequent cigarette use both went up over the course of the
decade by around 30%. The only tobacco product that saw a dip in usage was
smokeless tobacco, down since 1995. But there is more to be thankful for than
just that, says Kann: "From '91 to '99, it [tobacco use] has increased, but
in the last half of the decade, it's leveled off. Compared to just a straight
increase, that's also an improvement."