CDC Study: Teenagers Smoking Less, Texting More

A recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that the youth of America are, in general, behaving better.  The numbers of teens who engage in smoking, are sexually active, or have participated in a physical fight have dropped significantly since 1991.

The survey asked students in grades 9-12 about their alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use, sexual activity, violence, dietary and exercise, and suicide-related behaviors, writes Gillian Burdett for The Examiner.

Smoking has reached an all-time low of 15.7%, coming down from a high of 36.4% in 1997.  And the number of students who had been in a physical fight on school property has dropped by half to 8.0% from 16.0% in 1993.

“The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is an important tool for understanding how health risk behaviors among youth vary across the nation and over time. We can use these data to help schools, communities, families, and students reduce youth risk behaviors that are still prevalent and to monitor those that are newly emerging.” — Laura Kann, Ph.D., chief of the CDC’s School-Based Surveillance Branch.

Karen Kaplan for The Los Angeles Times reports that the CDC discovered that 41% of the survey participants who hold a driver’s license text while driving.  In addition, 10% of driving teens admitted to driving while drinking alcohol, and 21.9% of all those surveyed have ridden in a car with a drunk driver.

“It’s encouraging that high school students are making better health choices such as not fighting, not smoking and not having sex,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.  “Way too many young people still smoke, and other areas such as texting while driving remain a challenge.”

Frieden suggested the creation of programs to help teens make healthy life choices.

While these statistics are encouraging, another survey of 1,200 Los Angeles middle school students  found that 20% have received a sexually explicit message or photo on their cell phone.  These students were also six times more likely to report being sexually active.

About 11% of the 841 participants (average age, 12 years old) admitted to being sexually active.

“These findings call attention to the need to train health educators on how to best communicate with young adolescents about sexting in relation to sexual behavior,” the authors write in the new study. “Middle school sexual health curricula should incorporate sexting and its potential legal, social, emotional and behavioral consequences.”

The authors of the report discuss that this sexting is causing teens to become sexually active sooner, raising the likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or becoming pregnant while still a teenager, writes Allie Bidwell for US News.

According to Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, more research is needed on the mental consequences of sexting, as the photos and texts could be used to harass individuals.  Several cases have already emerged where a sexual photo was distributed, causing the teen who sent the photo to commit suicide.

“There’s a lot that’s not known about … how these images or explicit messages could be used to target somebody for harassment,” he says.

07 8, 2014
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