The percentage of high school students engaging in risky health behaviors decreased significantly from 1991 to 2011, according to the CDC.
The decline in risky behaviors was reflected in the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS), a national sample of more than 15,000 students from both public and private high schools across 43 states, conducted every 2 years.
According to Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, successful interventions such as the adoption and strengthening of graduated driver licensing laws, improved use of seatbelts and decreases in alcohol-impaired driving are likely factors responsible for the reduction in risky behaviors.
“These trends show that we’re making great progress in helping our nation’s youth make positive health choices,” Wechsler said during a telephone press conference.
Wechsler said the percentage of high school students who never or rarely use a seatbelt declined from 26% in 1991 to 8% in 2011. The number of students who rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol dropped as well, from 40% to 24% during the same time period. From 1997 to 2011, the percentage of students who had driven a car when they had been drinking alcohol decreased from 17% to 8%.
Ruth Shults, PhD, MPH, of the CDC’s Motor Vehicle Team, said 3,115 teenagers aged 13 to 19 years died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010, a 44% reduction in the past ten years.
“We’ve made tremendous progress in reducing teen motor vehicle deaths in the last decade, even though it is still the No. 1 cause of death among teenagers,” she said.
However, the YRBS revealed that emerging technology among youth is resulting in new risks. One in three high school students reported that they had texted or emailed while driving a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days. One in six students reported being bullied through email, texts, online chat rooms, instant messaging and websites during the past 12 months.
The YRBS also showed that there has been no significant progress in reducing cigarette use, and marijuana use among high school students is on the rise, according to the CDC. For the first time since the CDC began collecting YRBS data in 1991, current marijuana use among high school students was more common than current cigarette use (23% vs. 18%).
“There’s no one simple solution to reducing the prevalence of health-risk behaviors among high school students,” Wechsler said, “but how well we address these behaviors now will greatly impact the overall picture of health of our nation’s youth in the future.”
He said clinicians should take the time to counsel their patients on health-risk behaviors and specifically address the emerging problems of technology and distracted driving, as well as electronic bullying.
For more information on the YRBS, visit http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm.