Overall teen health better, improvement still needed

The results of the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey have been released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and show that teen health is improving overall.

While overall teen health has improved, texting while driving is still a cause for concern. (Credit: Samuel Bravonicci)

While overall teen health has improved, texting while driving is still a cause for concern. (Credit: Samuel Bravonicci)

Smoking and drinking have decreased amongst teens, but other risk behaviors associated with teen sexual activity and texting and driving are on the rise. Overall, the research seems to indicate that teen health is moving in the right direction, but there is still room for improvement.

The good news

So what are the 13,000 U.S. high school students who took part in the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey getting right in terms of their risk behaviors and overall health? According to Kim Painter in her June 12, 2014, article for USAToday, “‘Teens choosing health’: Smoking hits a landmark low,” the good news for teen health comes from reduced smoking and drinking rates among the age group.

She wrote, “Just 15.7% of teens were current smokers in 2013, down from 27.5% when the survey began and 36.4% in the peak year of 1997, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.” While the numbers are definitely moving in the right direction, 2.7 million high school kids still smoke, so more work remains to be done.

Other positive notes from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that soda consumption was down, as well as TV time (although that time may have just shifted to computers, the usage of which increased).

The bad news

News in regards to teen sexual activity is more mixed. Overall, fewer teens are having less sex per the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey—just 34 percent were sexually active (meaning they had had sex during the three months prior to the survey) in 2013 versus 38 percent in 1991. Additionally, fewer are having sex at all, with just 47 percent in 2013 saying they had ever had sex, down from 54 percent in 1991. However, those that are having sex are engaging in such risk behaviors as unprotected sex.

Dr. Stephanie Zaza posted for the blog at aids.gov on June 12, 2014, about some areas of teen health that could use some improvement in “2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results Released Today.” She wrote, “Fewer used a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse – 63 percent in 2003 compared to 59 percent in 2013. This trend leaves more students vulnerable to HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy.”

Another danger area for teen health is texting and driving. The survey found that 41 percent of students engaged in texting while driving in the 30-day period prior to taking part in the CDC survey.

Other areas of concern for teen health

The first things that come to mind in terms of teen health are risk behaviors such as smoking and drinking, sexual activity, and texting and driving. However, a May 15, 2014, article in London’s Daily Mail highlighted other concerns. “Teen Health Timebomb; They’re Risking Heart Disease and Diabetes by Eating 40% Too Much Sugar” by Sophie Borland reported on these other issues.

Borland wrote, “Girls and boys aged 11 to 19 typically eat 42 percent too much sugar and 14 percent too much saturated fat.” While these results are for Great Britain, it is certain that teens in the United States aren’t doing any better. The World Health Organization has even called for the public to reduce their sugar intake by half to fight against increase obesity rates, as well as rises in type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Teen health does seem to be improving overall, but there are still areas that need improvement to help teens fight disease and stay healthy.

Want to learn more about public health? Check out Questia—particularly the section on teenage sexual behavior and smoking and teenagers

What health risks have you taken? What things do you do to try and stay healthy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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