Encouraging as this news is, this downward trend needs to be steeper and the disparities between racial and ethnic groups need to be reduced further.
As director of the division of adolescent and school health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Howell Wechsler, says, 'We're delighted that we're seeing some progress, but the reality is that risk-behavior levels are just way too high.' 'We want to celebrate that most of the risk behaviors are going in right direction, but they're not going down fast enough so we have a lot more work to do.'
These were the findings of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance - United States, 2005, released by the CDC.
The CDC has been conducting such surveys every two years since 1991. The results of the afore mentioned survey was conducted with the help of data collected during spring of 2005 from some 14,000 students in both public and private high schools in several parts of the country. The report includes national data as well as data from surveys conducted in 40 states and 21 large urban school districts.
According to Wechsler the number of high school students that engage in risky health behavior such tobacco and alcohol use, sexual activity, and rash motor vehicle driving.
There has been a dramatic increase in seatbelt use. The percentage of teens who claimed they did not use seatbelts have reduced from 26 percent in 1991 to 18 percent in 2003 to only a 10 percent in 2005.
Alcohol use has also reduced from 51 percent in 1991 to 43 percent in 2005.
Reported first time sexual intercourse has reduced from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2005. Compared to the 46 percent in 1991 who used a condom during the last sexual intercourse, the percentage rose to 63 percent of sexually active students in 2005.
However several racial and ethnic differences regulated this picture.
It was found that Hispanic or black students were more likely to engage in physical fighting, risky sexual behaviors as well as be overweight compared to the white students. However binge drinking and smoking cigarettes were more common among the white students than the others.
Use of drugs and tobacco were less frequent among the Black students than their white and Hispanic peers. But they reported the maximum number of risky sexual encounters as well as sedentary habits such as watching TV three or more hours a day.
'The data dispels myths that African-American youth have negative behaviors in all areas,' said Dr. Renee Jenkins, professor and chairwoman of the department of pediatrics and child health at Howard University, in Washington, D.C. 'There were also some surprises in the nutrition area, where African-Americans reported the highest percentage of eating fruits and vegetables more than five times a day.'
Jenkins also added. 'We need to recognize the context of communities. Higher rates of TV watching and using computers have to be seen in the context of less-than-safe communities. Choices about how they spend time are determined to some extent by the communities in which they live.'
Looking at the overall picture the Hispanic youth lifestyle appears to be the most troubling where suicide attempts and use of drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines are particularly high. Latin girls especially appeared to persistently report feelings of hopelessness, sadness and attempting suicide.
According to Dr. Glenn Flores, professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and health policy at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, 'I think this is a sentinel indicator for us to say there's something wrong with the childhood we're giving to our Latino kids,' Flores also added. 'We could have a very troubled future generation, and since the majority of our nation's children will soon be Latino, we're talking about our whole nation's future productivity and health.'