Health Officials Lament
Appalling Teen Sex
And Health Practices
By Mike Cooper
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Significant numbers of U.S. high school students admitted in a nationwide survey that they got drunk, had sex, smoked, carried weapons and practiced other risky behavior, U.S. health officials said Thursday.
"This report tells us that too many youth practice behaviors that are unnecessarily placing them at risk for serious injury, sexually transmitted diseases and other preventable health problems," said Laura Kann, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"These risk behaviors should be cause for great concern," Kann said.
The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey questioned 16,262 students in Grades 9 to 12 from February to May 1997.
The survey found more than one-third of high school students got drunk over the preceding month or rode with a driver under the influence of alcohol. Almost one-fifth of students carried a weapon, such as a gun, knife or club, in the preceding month.
One-third of high school students had sexual intercourse in the preceding three months, but only 56 percent used a condom, the CDC said.
Kann said that high school students were engaged in risky sexual behavior, even though unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, were epidemic among the nation's youth.
The survey also found that one in five students rarely or never used a seat belt while riding in a car. The CDC said that 73 percent of deaths among young people aged 10 to 24 were caused by motor vehicle crashes, unintentional injuries, murders and suicides.
The survey, which did not give a margin of error, found that 36.4 percent of high school students smoked cigarettes in the preceding month and 16.7 percent smoked cigarettes at least 20 days during the previous month. A higher percentage of students had at least one drink or had gotten drunk.
"This report indicates that slightly over half of all high school students have had a drink of alcohol in the past month and about a third had five or more drinks of alcohol on at least one occasion during the past month," Kann said.
The CDC survey also found some teenagers were physically inactive or had poor nutrition, increasing their risk for heart disease, stroke and cancer -- which cause two-thirds of all deaths among adults.
Less than one-third ate the recommended five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables. The survey found that 4.5 percent of students took laxatives or vomited to lose weight and 4.9 percent had taken diet pills in the preceding month.