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Less Smoking, Sex Among U.S. High School Kids: CDC

But rates for other unhealthy behaviors, such as texting while driving, are up, agency says

WebMD News from HealthDay

By E.J. Mundell and Steve Reinberg

HealthDay Reporters

THURSDAY, June 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- There's good news for parents from a new government report on teen behaviors: The rates of smoking, sex and physical fights among high school students are dropping.

The 2013 survey found that the smoking rate for this age group has now declined to just 15.7 percent -- reaching the U.S. government's "Healthy People 2020" goal of 16 percent or lower seven years early.

According to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens are also waiting longer now to have sex than in years past. The number who said they had engaged in sexual intercourse during the past three years fell from 38 percent in 1991 to 34 percent by 2013, the CDC found.

Teens also appear to be less violent now than in the past. The survey of more than 13,000 U.S. high school students from 42 states found that 25 percent of teens had been in a physical fight at least once over the past year, compared to a rate of 42 percent when kids were surveyed in 1991.

"We are encouraged to see that high school students are making better choices in some areas like smoking and fighting," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said during a Thursday news briefing.

"I am also encouraged to see the reduction in the proportion of high school kids who are currently sexually active," he added. "We still think it's too high, but the trend is going in the right direction."

Teens might even be watching their diets a bit more, the CDC found. The agency found a "significant decrease" in the number of high school students who drank soda one or more times per day. While 34 percent of teens surveyed in 2007 said they consumed the calorie-packed drinks daily, that number had fallen to 27 percent by 2013.

But the news wasn't all good. According to the survey, while rates of smoking tobacco cigarettes were down, there was no change at all in the rate of chew, snuff and other smokeless tobacco since 1999, and the rate of cigar use among male high school seniors is now at 23 percent. And the CDC notes that other surveys have charted a rise in the number of teens using hookahs or e-cigarettes.

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