Vaping Use Doubles, While Sleep Decreases Among High School Students Based on Emerson Hospital’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Significant Increase in Risky Device Use Also Reported in Massachusetts’ Largest Youth Behavior Survey 


Vaping among youth in area public schools has doubled since 2016, according to the results of the 2018 Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the largest public school student behavior survey in Massachusetts. In the 2016 survey, 10% of students reported they had vaped. In 2018, that number doubled to 20% of students. The most common substances that youth in grades 6 through 12 report vaping are flavored nicotine and marijuana – both highly addictive substances. 

While alcohol and tobacco use are generally trending downward among students, the survey shows that marijuana use is increasing among those in 6th and 8th grade and high schoolers. “These survey results are very troubling for the short and long-term health of students,” said Dr. Eshita Bakshi, Chair of Pediatrics, Emerson Hospital. “Scientific studies have shown that vaping and marijuana use often results in students becoming dangerously addicted to even harder illegal drugs in the future. These addictions can last a lifetime and result in premature death.” 

The 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey also reveals that 37% of 6th graders, 64% of 8th graders and 85% of high schoolers sleep an average of seven or fewer hours on school nights. These percentages are up significantly from 2014 when just 17% of 6th graders, 42% of 8th graders and 71% of high schoolers reported sleeping an average of 7 or fewer hours on school nights. Even more surprising, 5% of students receive four or less hours of sleep on school nights. Students least likely to get the recommended hours of sleep include those whose grades are D or F, bully others and identify their gender as transgender or “other.”

“Getting at least eight hours of sleep every night is fundamental to good physical and mental health,” explains Dr. Bakshi. “It is very concerning that the majority of students in grades 6-12 are functioning on such little sleep. Parents and caregivers need to encourage students to shut their devices and other activities down at night to help ensure a good nights’ sleep.” 

When it comes to social media use, based on the 2018 survey data, more than one quarter of high school students (27%) have been in a risky or unwanted situation because of information shared electronically. This may be correlated with a lack of parents/guardians monitoring their social media use. 53% of all students report that their parents/guardians do not monitor their social media use at all, including 77% of 12th graders.  

“Emerson’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey is a call-to-action for all parents, teachers, school administrators and caregivers to advocate for students and be keenly aware of what types of behavior they are involved with. We have many excellent resources in the community to help prevent and reduce risky behavior to improve the outcomes for students and help them live healthy lives,” said Dr. Bakshi. 

About the Youth Risk Behavior Survey 
“Emerson’s mission is to help every resident in our service area live healthy lives,” said Christine Schuster, President and CEO of Emerson Hospital. “The 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey results are critical to understanding the behaviors of students in our communities as we work hard to help youth make healthy, lifelong choices.”  Based on the survey results over the twenty years Emerson has conducted the study, school staff and health educators have put new programs in place to improve the outcomes of students in Emerson’s service area. These programs include substance abuse education, mindfulness practices in classrooms to reduce student stress and signs of suicide trainings. 

The Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey has been conducted bi-annually since 1998. It was initiated to provide educators with reliable data that can assist in the ongoing development of health education curriculum and programs within Emerson’s community.  This year, 11,044 students in grades 6, 8, and 9 through 12 from nine public school districts participated in the survey, constituting a 96% participation rate. Students from the following towns participated in the 2018 survey: Acton-Boxborough, Ayer-Shirley Regional School District, Concord and Concord-Carlisle, Groton-Dunstable, Harvard (The Bromfield School), Littleton, Maynard, Nashoba Regional, and Westford Public Schools. The students took the anonymous online survey in school during March 2018 and it was administered by professional staff from each district. To access the complete 2018 Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey results, please visit