June 09, 2016
3 min read

E-cigarette use up, traditional smoking down among youth

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Although cigarette smoking among high school students has decreased from 28% in 1991 to 11% in 2015, nearly a quarter reported using e-cigarettes during the past 30 days, according to survey data released by the CDC.

Unveiling the results of the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which collects data from national, state and large urban school districts every 2 years, to monitor the various health decisions made by students in grades 9 through 12, CDC officials noted a similar trend among other categories: Despite some great progress in each category, new challenges continue to surface

“YRBS is really important because it tells us what high school students across the country are doing that could affect their health,” Stephanie Zaza, MD, MPH, FACPM, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, said during a telephone press conference. “We know that adolescence is a time when healthy or risky behaviors are being established and these behaviors can last a lifetime…. In each topic, we are encouraged to see that high school students are making some better choices. Unfortunately, in each area, we are also still facing some big challenges.”

The 2015 YRBS report drew data from more than 15,000 students and includes results from the national YRBS and additional surveys in 37 states and 19 large urban school districts.

According to Zaza, cigarette smoking among high school students is at its lowest point since the CDC began the survey in 1991. However, the data also indicate that 24% of high school students reported using e-cigarettes, a development Zaza called “troubling.”

“This is the first time the YRBS has measured e-cigarette use,” Zaza said. “Recent national attention on the challenges of opiate addiction also affects our youth.”

According to the 2015 YRBS report, 17% of students had taken prescription drugs, including Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin and Xanax, without a doctor’s prescription. That figure is down from 20% in 2009.

Other findings in the National YRBS report include:

  • Among high school students who had driven a vehicle in the past 30 days, 42% reported texting or emailing while driving. This percentage did not change from the previous report in 2013. In some states, the rate of texting or emailing while driving among students reached 63%;
  • The percentage of high school students who had been in a physical fight during the past 12 months decreased from 42% in 1991 to 23% in 2015. In addition, 6% of students reported missing at least 1 day of school due to safety concerns, down from 7% in 2013;
  • The percentage of high school students who reported being sexually active — defined as having sexual intercourse during the past 3 months — dropped from 38% in 1991 to 30% in 2015. Sexual activity had been reported among 34% of participants in 2013. However, condom use among those sexually active decreased, from 63% in 2003 to 57% in 2015, following more than a decade of increasing rates that peaked in the early 2000s. Condom use dropped modestly from 59% in 2013;
  • Among those who were sexually active, the proportion of those who drank alcohol or used drugs before their last sexual intercourse decreased from 25% in 1991 to 21% in 2015. In 2013 rate had been 22%. However, the percentage of students who had ever been tested for HIV decreased from 13% in 2011 and 2013 to 10% in 2015; and
  • Daily soda drinking among high school students decreased from 27% in 2013 to 20% in 2015. However, from 2003 to 2015, the rate of high school students playing video or computer games, or using a computer for non-school-related purposes, for 3 or more hours per day, nearly doubled, from 22% to 42%.

“This year’s YRBS report clearly shows that fewer high school students are engaging in some important health risk behaviors, but we still have some progress to make,” Zaza said. “There’s no single solution to reduce health risk behaviors among high school students, and we can all collaborate to help address these health risks, using interventions that are based on the best science available…. We hope that public health professionals, educators, youth service providers and policy makers can use these data to guide their planning decisions and help schools and communities reduce youth risk behaviors that are still prevalent, and to monitor those that are newly emerging.” – by Jason Laday

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