Teen-age Trends of Risky Behavior a 'Mixed Bag'
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
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.
"Any time you take a portrait of youth risk taking, you will never find
consistency across the board because you will always find a mixed portrait of
what is going on with young people, so I've got to say that's not particularly
a surprise," Michael Resnick, PhD, a sociologist and professor of
pediatrics at the University of Minnesota's Adolescent Health Program, tells
"I'm heartened by the good news that in some areas, such as sexual
behavior and decision making, it looks like a growing number of young people
get the message about not placing themselves at risk. But I have to qualify
that by saying that at the same time ... our rates are still stunningly higher
than our European counterparts, so we shouldn't be too self- congratulatory
about this stuff," Resnick says. Resnick also is director of the National
Teen Pregnancy Prevention Research Center.
Kann says the statistics offer no easy answers or obvious reasons.
"Health risk behaviors are determined by a real complex interaction of
personal factors, social, cultural, economic, environmental, things like peer
norms, adult practices, media influences in the broadest sense of the word,
including the web, availability of effective programs, state and local laws,
and enforcement practices. All those things together determine whether or not a
kid practices the behavior in the first place, and then whether or not we can
be successful in improving the overall rate of those behaviors over