CDC Releases Data on High Schoolers' Health and Safety
By Tyler Reed, Internet Reporter

Today's teenagers are not as troubled as one might think.

Fewer American high school students contemplated suicide last year compared to a decade earlier. Fewer students are trying or using tobacco. Fewer girls are getting pregnant. And, fewer high schoolers have had sex at all.

According to results released this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), high school students are, in many categories, safer and healthier than they were 10 years ago.

"There have been substantial improvements in the last 10 years. But we still have a long way to go," said Jo Anne Grunbaum, a health scientist at the CDC and project officer for the YRBSS. "We need families and schools, community organizations, and our youth to work together to help fix these problems."

On the positive side, 10 years ago 70 percent of high school students had ever tried a cigarette. And in 2003, only 58 percent said they tried one. But on the other hand, a greater number of students still see themselves as overweight. And more American high schoolers use drugs today than they did a decade ago.

The YRBSS, conducted every other year, surveys students from high schools in selected cities and states across America in an attempt to put into numbers their susceptibility to "priority health-risk behaviors, which contribute to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among youth and adults," according to the national report.

The CDC sends data collectors into individually selected classrooms within selected schools to administer the anonymous survey, said Grunbaum. They combine their national results with separate state and city-based YRBSS surveys to create useful comparisons and examine trends.

Nationally speaking, many of the categories in which students were surveyed, like tobacco use and violent behaviors, have shown improvements. But not all have done so.

"The bad news is 29 percent of high school students [think they] are overweight," she said. Just under 44 percent of all students are trying to lose weight-including 59 percent of all females. Over 18 percent of high school girls have gone for at least 24 hours without eating, so that they might lose weight.

The YRBSS surveys risk factors that not only can threaten students' lives today, but in the future as well. Obesity and unhealthy dieting, according to the CDC's report, contribute to the fact 63 percent of deaths among adults 25 years and older are the result of heart disease or cancer.

While still too many American high schoolers are overweight-a factor that the CDC report says contributes to the chances of getting heart disease-fewer students today smoke than in the past, putting them at less risk for at least one type of cancer.

Another negative that the survey reveals is that drug use has increased. More students have tried marijuana than 10 years ago. The number of students who have ever taken steroid pills or shots without a doctor's permission has nearly tripled.

Information like this is useful for cities, states and other agencies within the CDC, like the Office of Smoking and Health, to keep track of what the risks are. "The results are used primarily by state and local health agencies ... to improve health related policies, and to see where they stand," said Matthew Sones, YRBSS spokesman for the CDC.

Using the Data

Scientists at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), an arm of the CDC, often use YRBSS data for research published in scholarly journals or the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, according to Dagny Putman, spokesperson for the NCIPC.

Putman said the NCIPC is interested, not only in data found in the YRBSS directly relating to unintentional injury and violence, but also statistics on drug and alcohol abuse, which "are risk factors for unintentional injury," she said.

Local school systems put the data to use as well. Boston Public Schools' medical director, Linda Grant, said of the survey, "it gives a snapshot of how we are doing." She said she finds the data reliable and trustworthy. "It's the best survey that I think we have that is standardized."

"The concern is always to watch the trends. If we put money into one area, does the other area increase?" said Grant.

Even though numbers indicate fewer students are smoking today, Grant said if one area is ignored and money is focused on improving only one risk factor, then others might suffer.

Grant noted that the CDC, along with the Department of Health and Human Services just awarded Boston and four other cities a Steps to a HealthierUS grant. Boston will receive money over the next five years, including $2,000,000 next year, to combat problems like obesity.

Claiming obesity "is at epidemic proportions," Grant said of the money from the CDC and DHHS: "It's throwing a lot of money out there to see what will work."


Check out the results of the CDC's YRBSS survey at or

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