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1/26/09: Tenth anniversary of Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey provides data on adolescent risk behaviors

Bi-annual research offers broad insights into wide range of adolescent behavior patterns

The 2008 Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered to 8,677 area students in grades 6, 8, and 9-12 in seven local school districts, reveals new statistics about adolescent risk behavior patterns.

In this year’s survey, a new question analyzes gambling patterns in area youth. National statistics indicate that the number of teen gamblers in the United States is rising. In a new question added to this year’s survey, 5% of high school respondents report having spent one or more hours online using the Internet to gamble during the month prior to the survey. The incidence of this behavior was highest in grade 11. Sixth grade respondents to the same question report that 2% use the Internet to gamble, while 5% of eighth graders spend an hour or more online gambling. In addition, 14% of sixth grade respondents, 27% of eighth grade respondents, and 35% of high school respondents report having gambled at least once during the previous year.

The Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey has been conducted bi-annually for the last ten years. The Survey Committee, comprised of health educators from the respective school districts, revises the survey questions over time to reflect current topics.

Emerson Hospital’s support of a local Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the last ten years has provided a prevention safety net to students and families in all nine towns that participate in the survey,” said Kathy Bowen, K-12 Health Education Coordinator for the Concord Public & Concord-Carlisle School System. “Working with Emerson has allowed us to create a living document whose results assist us in keeping abreast of the most recent risk behaviors our students deal with daily, from Internet safety to dating violence. Having five years of data allows us to assess how far we have come and where we need to go in providing prevention programming to students, their families, and our seven school districts.”

The aggregate and individual district results are provided to the seven area school superintendents to present a more comprehensive picture of health and risk behaviors over time among area youth. The superintendents and their health educators in turn rely on the survey results for use in developing the health education curriculums in their communities.
“Emerson Hospital is pleased to support this important health initiative because statistics prove that proactive health curriculums promote positive behavior change,” said Christine Schuster, Emerson Hospital president and CEO. “This survey and other youth-based initiatives focused on educating schools and families on how to discuss risky behaviors lay the foundation to promote healthy choices,” she said. “We believe that by gathering data directly from within our communities, we help to create the most effective educational programs and classroom instruction to give parents and children the best community-based prevention and intervention initiatives possible.”

Sexual behavior trends: Results show little change
The Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey also monitors sexual behavior among area teens. Comparative data reflect relatively little change over time in the number of students reporting that they ever had sexual intercourse. Of eighth graders surveyed between 2000 and 2008, the percentages who reported that they ever had sexual intercourse varied from 6% to 11%. Of high school students surveyed between 2000 and 2008, the percentages who reported that they ever had sexual intercourse varied from 26% to 28%.

New questions on oral sex were added to the Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2006. Of eighth graders surveyed in 2008, 11% report having ever participated in oral sex. More than one-third (35%) of high school respondents report having ever participated in oral sex.
While sexual activity statistics remain steady, the Emerson Hospital survey data shows that 49% of high school respondents, 32% of sixth grade respondents, and 38% of eighth grade respondents report having ever talked about AIDS or HIV infection with their parents or other adults in their family.

Trends in tobacco and alcohol use show mostly positive results
Massachusetts statistics show that youth smoking rates are declining, in part due to the state’s investment in tobacco prevention and control. Notably, the rate of smoking among high school students in the state has been cut in half since 1995, according to a report released in early 2008 by the Office of Health and Human Services.
Emerson Hospital’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey results mirror state-wide trends. Of those surveyed, less than 1% of sixth grade respondents, 6% of eighth grade respondents, and 13% of all high school respondents report having smoked cigarettes recently. At the high school level, this represents an 11% decrease from respondents who answered the same question in 2000 (24% of high school respondents at that time had engaged in recent cigarette use).
Health educators believe that the use of cigarettes leads to the use of alcohol and illegal drugs. In fact, 79% of eighth graders who smoked cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey also drank alcohol recently, and 72% of eighth grade smokers had also used marijuana.

The use of alcohol and illegal drug use among area youth is decreasing. From 2000 to 2008, high school students who used alcohol recently decreased from 48% to 38%, and high school students who had ever used marijuana declined from 40% in 2000 to 32% in 2008.

Survey results show that the number of high school students who report having ridden in a car with an impaired driver (who is a minor) remain steady over time at 21%. An impaired driver is defined in the survey as someone who has used alcohol or other drugs. However, the incidence of this experience was much higher in grade 12 than in grade 9.

Of particular note in this year’s survey are results about teenagers who have attended a party where alcohol is allowed. Results show that more than one quarter (30%) of all high school respondents report having attended parties held in homes in their school district where alcohol use by teens was allowed, either occasionally or frequently during the 12 months prior to the survey. By comparison, 7% of all eighth grade respondents report having attended parties where alcohol use by teens is allowed.

Community and parent education efforts, due in part to the results of the Emerson Youth Risk Behavior Survey since 2000, have been increased and have had a positive effect on parents’ understanding of the impact of early use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs on brain development,” added Bowen. “Parent Education Prevention is a community initiative that needs to continue to be supported financially. New brain research allows parents to see the direct impact of early use on the brain of their adolescent, which hopefully will influence their decision to not make their homes and alcohol available to the underage youth in our communities.”

Role of gender in risky behavior
The role of gender in risk behaviors varied widely. Female respondents were more likely to injure themselves on purpose, try to lose weight, go without eating for 24 hours or more, and sleep an average of seven or fewer hours each night.
Male respondents were more likely to carry a weapon on school property, ride with an impaired driver (who is a minor), smoke cigars or cigarillos, try marijuana, spend one or more hours online using the Internet to gamble, sell illegal drugs on school property, and have four or more sexual partners in their lifetime.
Males and females engaged in certain risk behaviors at similar rates, including meeting someone in person with whom the first contact was over the Internet, experiencing dating violence, attempting suicide, drinking alcohol, binge drinking, using inhalants to get high, taking diet pills without the doctor’s advice, or having sexual intercourse.

About the survey
The 2008 Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is funded by Emerson Hospital as part of its community benefits program, was coordinated by Northeast Health Resources of Haverhill, Mass., a data collection and consulting firm specializing in teen surveys conducted in Massachusetts. The survey was administered on a voluntary basis in March 2008 to more than 8,500 public school students in grades 6, 8 and 9 through 12 in seven school systems. These include Acton and Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools, Boxborough (grade 6 only), Concord and Concord-Carlisle Regional Schools, Groton-Dunstable Regional Schools, the Littleton Public Schools, the Maynard Public Schools, and the Westford Public Schools. Students replied to 65 questions in grade 6, 89 questions in grade 8, and 111 questions in high school.
The data is provided to health coordinators and top public school administrators and is used to set school health and health promotion goals, and support modifications of school health curricula or other programs.
The complete Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey report is available here.