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Mixed results in latest survey of risky youth behavior, CDC reports


By Steven Ross Johnson
Posted: June 12, 2014 - 5:00 pm ET
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Cigarette smoking among the nation's high school students has fallen to its lowest level in more than two decades, according to the findings of a new government analysis, but it remains unclear whether the drop represents a shift to electronic cigarettes, which have boomed in popularity among teens.

Slightly less than 16% of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 reported being current smokers in 2013, which meets the federal government's goal to reduce that statistic to 16% by 2020. The 2013 teen smoking rate, reported in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, United States 2013 reflects a nearly 50% smoking decline, compared to the reported rate of 27.5% in 1991. The decline has been even more dramatic since 1997, when the teen smoking rate was 36.4%.

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In other report statistics, the percentage of high school students involved in a fight during the 12 months before the survey also went down, dropping to 25% in 2013, from 42% in 1991. Fights on school property have fallen by half over the past 20 years, to 8% in 2013, from 16% in 1993. Other health-risk behaviors such as drinking and sexual activity also declined, according to the report, as did soda consumption, a contributor to rising rates of childhood obesity over the past 30 years.

“The bottom line is that we're encouraged to see high school students are making better choices in some areas, like smoking and fighting and alcohol use,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.

Though progress had been made toward reducing a number of health-risk behaviors among teens, the report's findings overall were mixed. While the number of high school students who reported being sexually active went down from 38% in 1991 to 34% in 2013, condom use also declined, from 63% in 2003 to 59% in 2013.

It is also unclear whether findings that reported a decrease in the percentage of students watching television three or more hours a day (from 43% in 1999 to 32% in 2013) indicate that teens are becoming more physically active, or simply that they're spending just as much sedentary time with newer technologies. The percentage of students who reported using a computer three or more hours a day for non-school-related work increased to 41% in 2013 from 22% a decade earlier.

Data for the report was obtained through interviews conducted with more than 13,000 high school students in 42 states and 21 large urban school districts.

Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHsjohnson


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