Survey: Alaska youth engage in fewer risky behaviors

High school students smoke, drink less than teens one decade ago

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alaska high school students smoke and drink less compared to a decade ago, according to a recent survey.

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The Youth Risk Behavior Survey asked 1,318 students from 38 high schools to anonymously report about risky behaviors such as drug use, fighting and whether they wear seat belts.

The state's Division of Public Health conducted the 100-question survey last spring.

It found that about 18 percent of students were smoking cigarettes, a large drop compared to 1995, when 36.5 percent said they had smoked.

The survey also found that 8 percent fewer students were consuming alcohol compared to 1995. Nearly 40 percent said they drank in the past 30 days, while about 20 percent of Alaska teens had smoked marijuana.

Web links

For results of the survey, go to: http://hss.state.ak.us/dph/chronic/school/yrbsresults.htm.

About 30 percent of students had been in a fight during the past year, an 8 percent drop compared to 1995. But 12 percent reported being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend, a small increase.

About the same number of students as in the past - 45 percent - reported having sex.

While many risk factors went down, this year's survey found that more kids were overweight or at risk of being overweight.

That finding combines with reported low physical activity to concern Andrea Fenaughty of the state division of chronic disease prevention and health. Only 18 percent of Alaska high school teens attend daily physical education classes, the survey found.

"About one-third of teens around the U.S. have daily P.E., so our lower percentage is an indicator for future overweight and obesity health issues," Fenaughty said.

Alaska mandates active parent consent for such surveys, which means parents must sign for their child to participate. The constraint can cause low participation, said survey coordinator Patty Owen.

This year's response rate barely reached 60 percent, the required rate for the state to report and use findings. In 2001 and 2005, low response required the state to drop the results.

Owen said she didn't know if the consent law might skew results.

The state protects students' identities and uses sealed envelopes when conducting surveys, she said. Computer programs also analyze responses, looking for inconsistencies that are thrown out.

"We feel, for the most part, students are honest in their answers," Owen said.

The findings, which are analyzed nationwide by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, provide an important piece of program planning and decision-making regarding the use of available resources.

"It's our only way to measure trends and determine whether our programs are going in the right direction," Fenaughty said.

The department would study the surveys in the coming weeks to identify specific age groups or genders where risky behaviors might be occurring, she said.

• Contact Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kimberly.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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