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Teen Risk Behaviors Bad, but Better

Survey Shows Downward Trend in Most Behaviors That Threaten Teen Life, Health
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 4, 2008 -- Being a teenager isn't as risky as it used to be, but too many teens still put their lives and their health at risk, a CDC survey shows.

Every two years, the CDC conducts its huge Youth Risk Behavior Survey. It contains detailed data from more than 14,000 questionnaires anonymously completed by teens in grades 9 through 12.

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The majority of today's high school students aren't drinking and smoking as much, or participating in other risky health behaviors, and that's good news. But one group in particular is lagging behind.

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Overall, the 2007 results suggest that teens are acting more responsibly. Fewer are sexually active, nearly all wear seat belts, drinking and drug use are down, 80% of kids don't smoke, and there are fewer suicide attempts.

This is good news to Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health. In some cases, the new numbers begin to approach the CDC's Healthy People 2010 objectives.

"What we are seeing is from the early to mid-1990s to now, on a large number of health risk behaviors, we are seeing very, very encouraging progress," Wechsler tells WebMD.

Even so, the new numbers are enough to take a parent's breath away:

  • 7% of teens say they've attempted suicide (down from nearly 9% in 2001).
  • 35% of teens say they're sexually active (down from 37.5% in 2001).
  • 18% of teens say they carry a gun, knife, or club (no significant change from 2001).
  • 20% of teens say they smoke cigarettes (down from 36.4% in 1997).
  • Nearly 45% of teens say they use alcohol (down from 50% in 1999).
  • About 20% of teens say they use marijuana (down from nearly 27% in 1999).
  • Only about 21% of kids eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables (down from 24% in 1999).
  • 25% of teens play video games or use the computer for three or more hours a day (up from 21% in 2005).
  • More than 65% of kids don't get enough exercise, and 25% of teens say they don't even get an hour of exercise on any day of the week.

"We are gratified that there is progress being made," Wechsler says. "But my take on it is this: I have a bunch of kids myself and I am not going to be satisfied until we meet our goals -- and in most areas we are still not meeting our Healthy People 2010 objectives. So I see no cause to be overly satisfied."

( Which teens are most at risk? Find out from guest blogger Howell Wechsler on WebMD's News Watch blog.)

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