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Nevada teen survey: better and worse

Cory Fisher

If you’re a teen-ager who smokes cigarettes, you’re at a much greater risk of using alcohol or drugs or getting low grades, a Nevada Department of Education Survey says.

Key findings from the recently released 1997 Nevada Youth Risk Behavior Survey identify six top health risk behaviors among Nevada’s public high school students in grades 9 through 12.

“These results may be of great interest to many people in local school districts and communities,” said Mary L. Peterson, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction. “The survey results should be used by persons developing policies and effective programs that target these health risk behaviors practiced by youth. (These behaviors) have the potential for resulting in serious negative health consequences for these youths.”

Priority health risks include tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, behaviors that result in unintentional or intentional injuries, unhealthy dietary habits, physical inactivity and sexual behaviors that may result in HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies.

In order to monitor behaviors that put youths at risk for significant health and social problems, the survey was first conducted in 1993 in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and has been administered every two years since.

While progress in recent years has been made in the areas of smoking, fighting, alcohol and marijuana use and early sexual activity, other negative behaviors have become more prevalent.

Since 1995, more students are driving after drinking alcohol. Marijuana and alcohol use on school property has increased, and more students are being approached on campus regarding the use of drugs. Cocaine use has increased, a larger portion of sexually active students are having unprotected sex and fewer students report talking with their parents about AIDS or HIV.

Statistics revealed that a student who is at risk in one area is highly likely to be at risk in another. If a student smokes, there is a 72 percent chance that he or she is also at risk for alcohol use and a 60 percent chance for frequent marijuana use.

Similar data gathered in the state Department of Education’s 1996 Safe and Drug Free Schools and Community Student Survey reported a link between tobacco or drug use and anti-social behavior with poor academic performance. Daily smoking nearly doubled the risk of frequent absences, and tripled the likelihood of low grades and plans among tenth graders to drop out of school.

The CDC found that among adolescents and young adults nationwide, roughly 70 percent of all deaths and acute and chronic health problems stem from motor vehicle crashes and other unintentional injuries, homicides and suicides. In addition, significant health and social problems result from the more than one million teen-age girls who become pregnant and the more than 10 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases that occur each year among people aged 15 through 29.

The growing number of teen AIDS cases has made AIDS the sixth leading cause of death for youths aged 15 to 24. Because numerous habits relating to health are established during youth, many teen behaviors become contributors to the leading causes of death among adults.

“While we appear to be making progress in some critical areas, I am particularly concerned about the reported increases in drinking and driving and the decreases in moderate and aerobic exercise,” Peterson said. “Improved academic performance depends on healthy bodies and minds – I hope parents, educators and community leaders will work together to help our children develop healthy lifestyles and behaviors.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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