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Study: Less risky behavior among students

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) – Students in Hamilton County tend to have less risky behavior than they did 13 years ago, according to the Health Department.

According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, released today, students are less likely to smoke, use marijuana, drink alcohol or be sexually active.

A total of3,492 high school students representing 19 public and 6 private schools inHamilton County took the voluntary survey. The response rate was 69.6 percent.This year marked the third YRBS; previous surveys were conducted in 1998 and2001, and response rates were 2,990 and 2,752, respectively.

[READ: 2011 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey]

"We are very excited to see so many positive trends in the behaviors of youth inHamilton County," said Rae Young Bond, executive director, Chattanooga-Hamilton County MedicalSociety and Medical Foundation of Chattanooga. "These responses show that young people are making better choices that will lead to healthier emotional and physical outcomes. I was also pleased with the level of school participation for this year's survey," she added.

Survey data shows seat belt use has increased and alcohol use has decreased.

  • Percentage of teens who have ever tried alcohol (more than a few sips) decreased from 31 percent in 1998 to 21 percent in 2011.
  • Percentage who rode with a driver who had been drinking: decreased from 31 percent in 1998 to 21 percent in 2011

The percentage of students who engaged in two or more risky behaviors - smoking,drinking, marijuana use, and sexual intercourse - decreased from 41 percent in1998 to 28 percent in 2011. The percentage of students not engaging in any of the behaviors increased from 38 percent in 1998 to 50 percent in 2011.

"Young people are realizing that their actions have consequences and we hope to continue these healthy gains. Now we want to use this data to help guide the community so we can focus on areas that need improvement," said Dr. Susan Pollock,information development committee chair.

Students were classified into four risk categories based on their current participation in four key risk behaviors: smoking, drinking, marijuana use, and sexual intercourse.

  • Extreme risk-takers (all 4 categories) – 5 percent
  • Multiple risk-takers (2 or 3 risks) – 23 percent
  • Minimal risk-takers (1 risk) – 22 percent
  • Non risk-takers (no risks) – 50 percent

The percentage of non-risk-takers declined with grade level, from 66 percent of ninth graders to 36 percent of twelfth graders.

Other key findings indicate risky behaviors begin early for some young people, often before the age of 13. Students were asked how old they were when they first experimented with alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, sexual intercourse, and oral sex.

  • Male students were more likely than female students to report early initiation in all five risk behaviors
  • Black students were more likely than white or Latino students to report early initiation of alcohol use, marijuana use, and sexual behaviors.

Additional findings:

  • 17 percent of students reported they currently smoke cigarettes
  • 36 percent of students reported ever trying marijuana
  • 32 percent of students reported having been in a physical fight over the past 12 months
  • 22 percent of students reported carrying a gun, knife, or club within the past 30 days
  • 11 percent of both male and female students reported having been intentionally harmed by a boyfriend or girlfriend within the past 12 months
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