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Health & Parenting

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


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."

Alcohol use stayed relatively steady over the decade, with about half the teens reporting current alcohol use. About one in three of the students had recently had at least five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion. That would meet the definition of binge drinking. The number of teens who had recently been in a car when the driver was drinking alcohol was about one out of three, but that was an improvement since 1991.

Many other injury-related behaviors improved, some significantly. The number of kids who carried a gun or some other weapon to school decreased, and the number of kids who got in fights was lower. However, slightly more kids felt less safe at school.

More teens wore their seatbelts and bike helmets, and more participated in strengthening exercises, but far less attended physical education classes daily. Only one in four ate enough fruits and vegetables, and 10% were overweight.

Many of the rates varied greatly, depending upon where the teens lived. Smoking, some drug use, and smokeless tobacco use varied more than five-fold or greater among some states. Sexual intercourse before age 13 also varied between states, by as much as 3% to 16%. Whereas 2% of the teens in Nebraska felt unsafe at school, that number went up to 16% in Florida.

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