Some good news in teen ‘risky behavior’ report

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(Host) Vermont teenagers are smoking and drinking less than they were eight years ago.

That’s the good news in the latest survey of risky behavior among the state’s youth.

The bad news is that they smoke more marijuana than the national average, and have a relatively high rate of binge drinking.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state has been asking kids to report anonymously on risky behavior since 1993. More than 8,400 teenagers – from eighth graders to seniors – took the survey this year.

The results have encouraged state officials. Christine Finley is deputy health commissioner.

(Finley) I sometimes think that adolescents only hear the bad news about their age group. And we’ve seen positive progress in reducing the risky behavior among teens, and positive changes in their perceptions of what’s unhealthy and what’s risky.

(Dillon) The survey shows that cigarette smoking continues to decline: 16% of the students said they smoked in the past 30 days, down from 31% in 1999.

And there seems to be growing peer pressure against smoking. 75% said it’s wrong to smoke, up from 57% in 1999.

39% said they drink alcohol, down from 46% eight years ago.

But Finley said she’s still concerned by the number of kids drinking, and by those who said they were binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in a short period of time.

(Finley) We’re seeing an increase in drinking as they go through the grades, 19% in eighth grade and 55% in 12th grade, and almost a quarter of the students report binge drinking, with 38% of 12th graders reporting this.

(Dillon) Boys continued to engage in more risky behavior than girls, from not wearing seat belts to drinking and driving.

Education Commissioner Richard Cate said that boys lag in academic performance, as well.

(Cate) This is a societal issue. I think part of the problem, to be perfectly honest, is lack of role models in the lives of a lot of these males. The girls almost always have a female role model, their mother or someone in the household. Almost half of the boys don’t have a male role model, and without that, I think we get into a more difficult situation…

(Dillon) The survey showed that marijuana use is declining among young people, although the rate is still higher than the national average.

And the data offer a glimpse at the Vermont side of what officials are calling a national epidemic of childhood obesity. About 25% of teenagers here are obese, or are at risk of becoming so.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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