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11/3/10: Latest Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey provides data on local adolescent risk behaviors

The 2010 Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered to 8,597 area students in grades 6, 8, and 9-12 in seven local school districts, reveals new statistics about adolescent risk behavior patterns.

Topical and timely data are now available related to driving and cell phone usage, bullying trends, and sexual behavior, among other risk behaviors analyzed in the survey. 

The Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey has been conducted bi-annually for the last 12 years.  The survey committee, comprised of health educators from the respective school districts, revises the survey questions over time to reflect current topics.  For the first time this year, the 2010 grade 6 survey was piloted on a Web-enabled basis in four of the seven school districts (Acton, Boxborough, Littleton, and Maynard).

“Emerson Hospital’s support of a local Youth Risk Behavior Survey provides a prevention safety net to students and families in all nine towns that participate in the survey,” said Kathy Codianne, director of teaching and learning for Concord Public & Concord-Carlisle school system. “Working with Emerson enables 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 this 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,” said Christine Schuster, Emerson Hospital president and CEO. “Statistics prove that proactive health curriculums promote positive behavior change. 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. 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.”

Safety trends:  Driving and cell phone usage
Massachusetts’ new distracted driving law prohibits driver from texting while behind the wheel and bans use of all cell phones by drivers under age 18. The bans took effect Oct. 1, 2010. Although surveyed before the legislation became law, one-third of all high-school respondents reported having driven a car while using a cell phone to talk or text at least once during the previous 30 days preceding the survey. Among those most likely to drive, 51.7% of 11th graders and 73.1% of 12th graders report having done so. There was very little variation by gender.

“These results clearly reveal the widespread use of cell-phones to both speak and text by the least experienced drivers on the road and substantiate the necessity of recent legislation banning the use of cell phones by teens under age 18,” said Dr. Jessica Rubinstein, a pediatrician at Concord Hillside Medical Associates in Harvard and chief of pediatrics at Emerson Hospital.

Bullying trends
In the wake of two recent and high-profile suicides in Springfield and South Hadley, Massachusetts enacted an anti-bullying law.

Looking at bullying trends locally, 14.9% of all high school respondents report having been bullied in school during the 12 months prior to the survey. The reported incidence of this experience decreased each year by grade (grade 9 – 19.4%, grade 10 – 17.3%, grade 11 – 11.8%, grade 12 – 10.0%). Males reported being bullied in school slightly more frequently than females, and 2.8% of all respondents reported that they resisted being bullied in school with physical force. In a new question on the survey, 17.2% of high-schoolers report having been threatened, humiliated, or experienced hostile behaviors from others through electronic communication during the previous 12 months. There was little variation by grade and no variation by gender.  11.5% of all high school respondents report bullying someone else electronically.

One-fourth of sixth grade respondents and 21.7% of eighth grade respondents report having been bullied in school during the 12 months prior to the survey.  Among all respondents, 1.8% of sixth graders and 3.9% of eighth graders report having resisted being bullied with physical force.  11.4% of sixth grade respondents and 20% of eighth grade respondents report having been threatened, humiliated, or experienced hostile behaviors from others through electronic communication in any form during the previous 12 months. This experience of cyber-bullying did not vary by gender. Further, 4.9% of sixth graders and 12.8% of eighth graders report bullying someone else electronically.

“The Youth Risk Behavior Survey displays that bullying both in schools and via electronic communication involves at least one-fourth of all teens,” said Dr. Rubinstein. “The recent legislation in Massachusetts targeting bullying in the schools will hopefully make education and bullying prevention a priority in schools.”

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 both eighth-graders and high-school students surveyed between 2000 and 2010, the percentages who reported that they ever had sexual intercourse varied only a few percentage points in a 10-year period.

New questions on oral sex were added to the Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2006.  Of eighth graders surveyed in 2010, 10% report having ever participated in oral sex. More than one-third (35%) of high school respondents report having ever participated in oral sex. “The prevalence of oral sex in teens as young as middle school necessitates the need for health and wellness education to include educating youth about the risks of acquiring sexually-transmitted infections, especially herpes, via oral sex,” said Dr. Rubinstein.

While sexual activity statistics remain steady, the Emerson Hospital survey data show that 45% of high school respondents, 34% of eighth grade respondents, and 27% of sixth grade students report having ever talked about AIDS or HIV infection with their parents or other adults in their family. This represents a downward trend in all three grade categories in the number of students having candid conversations about HIV/AIDS with their parents.

Role of gender in risky behavior
The role of gender in risk behaviors varied widely.

Female respondents were more likely to:
• experience dating violence
• injure themselves on purpose
• indicate that they are currently trying to lose weight
• go without eating for 24 hours or more
• sleep an average of seven or fewer hours each night

Male respondents were more likely to:
• gamble
• offer/sell/give illegal drugs on school property
• recently used marijuana
• engage in binge drinking in the past month
• smoke cigars or cigarillos in the past month
• ever tried cigarette smoking
• carry a weapon on school property
• ride with an impaired driver

Males and females engaged in certain risk behaviors at similar rates, including:
• experiencing cyber-bullying
• attempting suicide
• taking diet pills/powders/liquids without a doctor’s advice
• eating breakfast on fewer than five days during the previous week
• engaging in recent sexual intercourse


About the survey
The 2010 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 2010 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 62 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 will be available under "community health resources" on Emerson Hospital’s Web site at www.emersonhospital.org.