A host of risky behaviors is less common in today’s high school students than in those 15 years earlier, according to a new CDC report.

The CDC published its 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Study in a special issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The survey has been given every two years since 1991. In 2005, it included nearly 14,000 students nationwide in grades 9-12.

The survey shows several major changes since 1991, including wearing seatbelts, riding with drivers who had been drinking alcohol, ever having sexual intercourse, carrying weapons, and using condoms.

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Risky Behaviors Down

In 2005, one in 10 students reported never or rarely wearing seatbelts, down from 18 percent in 1991.

“Young people are getting the message to buckle up,” the CDC’s Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, told reporters in a teleconference. Wechsler directs the CDC’s division of adolescent and school health.

Other changes included alcohol and driving. Less than three in 10 students in 2005 reported having ridden in the last 30 days with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, compared with nearly four in 10 in 1991. And in 1991, nearly 17 percent of students said they had driven after drinking alcohol, compared with about 10 percent in 2005.

In addition, less than one in five students in 2005 reported carrying a weapon in the previous 30 days, compared with more than one in four in 1991.

Fewer students reported ever having sexual intercourse, and more of the sexually active students reported using condoms.

Nearly 47 percent of students in 2005 reported ever having had sexual intercourse, compared with 54 percent in 1991. Among sexually active students, nearly two-thirds used a condom at last sexual intercourse in 2005, up from less than half in 1991.

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Racial and Ethnic Differences

Risky behaviors varied among students’ racial/ethnic groups, the study shows. For instance:

--Blacks were the least likely group to report using alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and ecstasy.

--Blacks were the most likely group to report sexual and sedentary behavior.

--Hispanics were the most likely group to report feeling sad or lonely, to have attempted suicide, and to have used drugs including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and ecstasy.

--Whites were the most likely group to smoke cigarettes frequently and to engage in episodic heavy drinking (at least five alcoholic drinks in a row on one or more days in the previous month).

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Other Findings

The study also provides a snapshot of other health behaviors.

--About 13 percent of students were overweight. But nearly 32 percent of students called themselves “slightly” or “very” overweight, and nearly 46 percent reported trying to lose weight.

--Girls were more likely than boys to call themselves overweight, the study shows.

--Overall, about 20 percent of students reported eating fruits and vegetables at least five times daily in the previous week, and around 16 percent reported drinking at least three glasses of milk per day.

More than two-thirds of students reported meeting previously recommended levels of physical activity. That is, they reported getting at least 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity on at least three days in the previous week, and/or at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days that week.

In the month before the survey, about 43 percent of students reported drinking alcohol and 23 percent reported smoking cigarettes, according to the report.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: CDC, “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2005.” Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, director, Division of Adolescent and School Health, CDC. News release, CDC.