Teens Smoke Less but Still Text and Drive

Megan Brooks

June 12, 2014

Fewer US high school students are smoking cigarettes, getting into fights, and having sex, but many are still texting while driving, federal health officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today.

"It's encouraging that high school students are making better health choices, such as not fighting, not smoking, and not having sex," CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a statement.

However, "way too many young people still smoke, and other areas such as texting while driving remain a challenge. Our youth are our future. We need to invest in programs that help them make healthy choices so they live long, healthy lives," he said.

According to the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), the United States has met its national Healthy People 2020 objective of reducing adolescent cigarette smoking to 16% or less. The rate now stands at 15.7%, the lowest level since 1991.

Despite this progress, reducing overall tobacco use remains a significant challenge, the CDC says.

In the YRBS, no change in smokeless tobacco use was observed among adolescents since 1999, and the decline in cigar use has slowed in recent years, with cigar use now at 23% among male high school seniors. And other national surveys show increases in hookah and e-cigarette use, the CDC notes.

Conducted biennially since 1991, the YRBS provides a snapshot of adolescent behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence.

The 2013 results show "encouraging" reductions in physical fighting among adolescents, the CDC says. The percentage of high school students who had been in a physical fight at least once in the prior year fell from 42% in 1991 to 25% in 2013.

Troubling Texting Data

For the first time in 2013, the YRBS collected data on texting and emailing while driving, and the news is not good.

The percentage of high school students who texted or emailed while driving in the prior month ranged from 32% to 61% across 37 states and from 19% to 43% across 15 large urban school districts. Nationwide, 41% of students who had driven a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days reported texting or emailing while driving.

The findings on sexual risk behaviors are mixed. The percentage of high school students who said that they had had sexual intercourse during the past 3 months fell from 38% in 1991 to 34% in 2013.

But among high school students who have sex, fewer are using condoms ― 59% in 2013, down from 63% in 2003. "This decline follows a period of increased condom use throughout the 1990s and early 2000s," the CDC notes in a statement.

The 2013 YRBS also shows mixed trends in obesity-related behaviors in recent years, such as excessive screen time and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda.

For example, from 2003-2013, the percentage of high school students who use a computer for pleasure 3 or more hours per day nearly doubled, from 22% to 41%. The percentage of high school students who watch 3 or more hours of television on an average school day decreased since 1999 (from 43% to 32%).

The 2013 YRBS also shows a significant drop in the percentage of students who drink soda 1 or more times a day, from 34% in 2007 to 27% in 2013.

More than 13,000 US high school students participated in the 2013 National YRBS. This survey is "an important tool for understanding how health risk behaviors among youth vary across the nation and over time," Laura Kann, PhD, chief of the CDC's School-Based Surveillance Branch, said in a statement.

"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," she added.

MMWR Surveill Summ. 2014;63:1-168. Full article

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